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Speedy reform of hukou urged
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Breaking the link between hukou and social benefits

The link between hukou and social benefits is the crux of the problem. For rural residents, a change to their registration status will remain purely formal if it brings no additional access to social benefits.

At the Beijing political consultative conference, Sun Mingshan, deputy head of the CPPCC Committee for Social and Legal affairs, said the government should rationalize all existing regulations linking residence status to social security rights, family planning, education rural land contracts.

One delegate said "Hukou reform must to break the boundaries of urban and rural, separate household registration from rights to education and economic benefits; and establish a purely voluntary residence registration system."

Substantial reform likely before 2020

Piecemeal changes around the country have raised expectations that the government is about to announce a timetable of nationwide reform.

But some experts and leaders have been quick to dampen expectations of rapid nationwide moves.

Sun Mingshan said reforms will have to take regional differences into account, especially the capacity of various cities to absorb surplus population. Local governments must be left wide discretion to define migration policy.

For example, mega-cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Wuhan facing enormous demand for residence permits should be allowed to continue tight migration policies to avoid the growth of urban slums.

For small and medium-sized cities in central and western regions on the other hand, more relaxed policies would stimulate economic development.

Prof. Zhang said that while a rigid timetable could not be imposed the central government should set out a broad agenda, and urge local governments to actively pursue hukou reform.

"A rigid timetable is not realistic. But the Third Plenum pointed out the reform direction. It called for integrated rural-urban development to be in place by 2020. This must include reform of the hukou system, the main obstacle to integrating urban and rural development."

(China.org.cn October 19, 2008)

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