China's top legislators and advisers vowed to shake off poverty and at the same time restore the ecological balance in the nation's "go-west" drive.
A press conference held by the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Saturday revealed that China plans to relocate more than 7 million poverty-stricken rural residents from areas blighted by extreme, adverse natural conditions, as part of its effort to eliminate poverty in the next decade.
Lu Feijie, a CPPCC member and deputy head of the State Council Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development said that funding for anti-poverty endeavors will be increased.
Relocation, however, will be on a voluntary basis, with the government providing those involved with the necessary assistance to build new homes and find incomes, said Lu.
He revealed government plans to spend 3 to 5 billion yuan (US$362 million to 605 million) on resettlement.
Since 1986, China's banks have extended special loans of up to 125 billion yuan (US$15 billion) to poor farmers.
In the past decade, more than 2.7 million people moved to new areas under a government resettlement program, but China still has about 28 million impoverished people in rural, remote areas, said Lu.
While the relocation is expected to bring about a better life for the destitute in China's west, the move will also significantly help the region's ecological system.
Official sources said the central government has decided to conduct ecological emigration and resettlement projects to transfer the poverty-stricken population living in areas with a fragile eco-system and harsh natural conditions.
"Improvement of the environment will be taken as the prime task at the starting point of China's large-scale economic development of its western regions," said Wang Zhibao, deputy director of the Office for the Development of the Western Regions under the State Council.
Wang, who is also a member of the 10th CPPCC National Committee, indicated at a press conference over the weekend that the ecological projects to be undertaken include the protection of natural forests, returning farmland to forests, desertification control, and the closure of pastures for the renewal of grasslands.
More than 500 billion yuan (US$60.5 billion) of funds has been earmarked for these four areas, with all the funds being directly transferred to the farmers, said Wang.
The press conference focused mainly on China's poverty alleviation endeavors and the development of the less-developed central and western regions, which remains a major topic for legislators and advisers.
Li Zibin, deputy director of the office and a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), said at another press conference held by the NPC on Saturday that China would draw on the successful experience of other nations when it came to formulating policies geared to the situation in China's western areas.
Construction of about 36 key projects has been ongoing in the western region over the past three years. A further 14 key projects, involving a total investment of more than 130 billion yuan (US$15.7 billion), are set to begin in 2003.
(China Daily March 10, 2003)