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Old Industrial Base Creating Influx of New Jobs

Workers in China's old Northeast industrial base are finding it easier to land jobs this year because of the robust development of the manufacturing and chemical sectors.

But employment and social security are still of vital importance under the country's national strategy to reinvigorate the industrial rustbelt.

Senior officials and researchers Wednesday reached this understanding at a seminar on labour and employment organized by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Wu Shiguo, deputy general director with the State Council Office for Invigorating Northeast China's Industrial Bases, said the region nonetheless still faces serious employment problems.

"With reforms of State-owned enterprises (SOEs) deepening, more and more will become unemployed," said Wu, adding the situation will continue for several years.

Wu based his judgment on the fact that at least 70 per cent of enterprises in Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces are SOEs, which are often blamed for being rigid and uncompetitive. Meanwhile, mineral reserves in around 20 cities in Northeast China are almost exhausted, sparking job loss fears and intensive searches for alternative investments.

"The two factors are worsening the region's employment situation," said Wu, adding a total of 100 mineral cities in China now are facing such choices.

The current registered urban jobless rate in Liaoning is higher than 6.5 per cent, which was recorded at the end of last year. The national unemployment rate was 4.3 per cent at the close of 2003.

However, many manufacturing factories in Northeast China are currently putting forth all their strength into production because of the robust economic development in China, said Li Peilin, a senior researcher with the government think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The situation is quite different from previous years and people in the region are becoming busy," said Li, who has headed a team of researchers focusing on the thorny employment issues in Northeast China for years.

Li said the old industrial bases should continue to develop sectors such as manufacturing and oil and chemicals to strive to enhance modern agriculture and consolidate its position as one of the country's major grain producers and suppliers.

"Those are comparative advantages for the region," said Li.

Wu said Northeast China is also rich in human resources.

Now, Liaoning has 77 schools of higher learning, with 550,000 students and 1.5 million working professionals. Heilongjiang has 48 universities and colleges, with 335,000 on-campus students, and Jilin has 41 schools of higher learning, with 220,000 students on the campus and 750,000 professionals.

(China Daily August 5, 2004)

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