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Urbanization Drive Needs Varied Strategies
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At Beijing's annual municipal people's congress, officials declared their ambitious target of setting the number of permanent residents of the capital at 16 million by the year 2010.


Liu Zhihua, vice mayor of Beijing, admitted it will be very difficult for the city to achieve this goal.


With per capita water resources at only an eighth of the national average level and land resources at one-fifth the national average, the city is facing a resources shortage and population explosion.


As increasing natural resources is out of the question, the vice mayor said on Sunday that economic, legal and scientific means would be employed to control and adjust the size of the population.


The vice mayor did not elaborate on these means, but emphasized the city would rely less on administrative approaches to population control.


Many major cities and provincial capitals are confronted by a similar crisis. On one hand, unlimited expansion of urban areas has given rise to various management problems; on the other hand, it is unfair and unrealistic to prohibit rural people from swarming into cities and urban residents from small cities into larger ones.


The disparity between rural and urban areas and between large and small cities in terms of living conditions and opportunities for better lives and careers is at the very root of the problem.


Urbanization is believed to be a process that may bridge the gap, but it is unrealistic to think that enough cities can be constructed for everyone, or that existing cities can be expanded to absorb millions of rural citizens.


Statistics show nearly 100 million rural migrant workers are employed in urban areas, clustered in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and other provincial capitals.


How to successfully assimilate them into the cities where they live and work is an important part of the country's urbanization process.


Migrant workers contribute to economic growth in urban areas, but they do not enjoy the same benefits and rights as permanent urban residents.


Although many cities have started to make plans to improve living conditions for rural migrant workers, much more needs to be done before they can really be said to have been assimilated.


But what about rural people left on the farmland? More and more laborers from the countryside are expected to swarm into cities, which cannot expand indefinitely.


That explains why the Central Party Committee (CPC) put forward the task of building a new socialist countryside and why some urbanization experts have suggested the country's urbanization process is at a critical stage when urban industry should support the development of agriculture and the central government's financial policies should favor rural development.


With the world's largest rural population, unbalanced agricultural development and varied natural conditions in the vast rural areas, a unified policy for urbanization cannot be expected to apply in every set of circumstances.


The example of Huaxi Village, where agriculture and industry have developed in a balanced manner and common prosperity has been realized among villagers, should be mirrored in other locations.


In this village in east China's Zhejiang Province, every family has its own big house measuring several hundred square meters, its own cars and all the facilities urban dwellers benefit from. The majority of villagers do not make their living by farming in Huaxi.


This should be one of the options considered in the framework of the country's urbanization drive.


However, given China's large population, food provision will be a concern for a long time to come in the process of economic development.


Urbanization should not be realized at the cost of the agricultural sector.


Cities should not expand ad infinitum as this approach will certainly mean the loss of arable farmland.


(China Daily January 17, 2006)


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