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China to become a welfare state by 2049
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China is likely to become a welfare state in the next 40 years, with universal medical care and old age pensions, says a report compiled by a panel of 208 Chinese experts.

The report said the country would undergo three stages to eventually achieve the target.

The first stage from 2008 to 2012 would see the creation of a safety net, which would include minimum living allowances, medical insurance and pensions for all urban and rural residents.

From 2013 to 2020, the government would keep improving welfare policies and measures to make the social security network stable and sustainable.

From 2021 to 2049, it would further improve provisions to eventually "build a socialist welfare society with Chinese characteristics".

The social security system already includes social insurance, benefits for the elderly, orphans and the disabled, special care for servicemen, social relief and housing services.

As the core of the social security system, social insurance includes old-age insurance, unemployment insurance, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance and maternity insurance.

As most of the policies target urban residents, the 737 million rural residents have been left with no proper pension and medical insurance.

To make up gap, the government has been developing a rural minimum living allowance system since the 1990s. In 2007, it was formally established in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland. The number of rural beneficiaries was 38.23 million by August this year.

The government launched a new cooperative medical care program in 2003 to offer basic healthcare to rural people. The scheme now covers 91 percent of total farmers and 98 percent of rural areas.

The report suggested the government incorporate the rural cooperative medical program with the urban medical insurance system. It also urged government to set up an old age pension system in rural areas.

Renmin University Professor Zheng Gongcheng, head of the research team, said the project, supported by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, was launched in May 2007.

More than 200 officials joined the expert panel in discussing the report, Zheng said.

He said the team had conducted field investigations in more than 11 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and even went abroad to study practices of foreign countries.

He hoped the lengthy report, which included action plans, would serve as a blueprint for China's social security system and provide reference for the government.

(Xinhua News Agency November 2, 2008)

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