The State Council has approved reforms initiated by Chongqing Municipality and city of Chengdu to reduce and finally eliminate the gap between urban and rural areas.
The two southwestern cities have been given the mandate as national experimental zones to pilot overall reform of the dual structure which has long placed rural residents at a disadvantage.
The message is clear: The widening gap in income, public service and social security between urban and rural areas must go.
In fact, most of China has long felt the effect of this gap. The sharp decrease in farmland and the mechanization of farming have pushed millions of rural residents to find jobs in cities over the past decades. The total number of migrant workers in big cities reached more than 900 million at the end of last year.
With rural income five to six times lower than city earnings, those left behind to farm the land rely on these migrant workers for cash.
What is deeply worrying is that the urban-rural gap has been widening in recent years because of the structural barriers depriving rural residents of equal rights.
The call is growing by both academics and citizens for unified household registration for rural and urban residents. The action taken by some local governments to register all households as residents only, rather than rural or urban, has pioneered the change of this irrational structure.
The pension systems and other types of social security already delivered to rural residents in some localities are also helping close the urban-rural gap.
The underdeveloped southwestern cities designated as experimental zones are of particular significance as rural residents make up more than 80 percent of each entity's population and both cities are involved in the campaign to develop the west.
Both Chongqing Municipality and Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, have the potential to blaze a new trail in ending urban-rural polarization.
If successful, their experience will, hopefully, be extended nationwide.
(China Daily June 11, 2007)