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Official: Employment Growth Ranks Top for China's Economic Development
A senior Chinese official said here Tuesday that China regarded employment growth as the top economic priority and the country would take every measure to boost employment.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, secretary general of China's State Development and Reform Commission (SDRC), spoke at a China-ASEAN symposium on Economic and Social Impact of SARS on Tuesday.

He acknowledged that China started to feel growing employment pressure due to the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

China's service sector was once the key industry providing jobs for new members of the workforce, but experienced a sharp downturn during the SARS period, Zhang said, predicting that the SARS impact on China's employment would still endure for a while.

A report from the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) showed that China's labor supply had peaked in recent years.

In 2003, China saw over two million workers more than last year, the report said, adding that 70 percent of the new workforce in the past five years found their jobs in the service sector.

However, the report noted that China's catering, commerce, and social service industries were worst hit by SARS epidemic, and many small and medium-size enterprise had to shut down their business which inevitably led to a sharp decrease of social labor demand.

According to the report, SARS disease had slowed down the income growth rate of urban and rural residents and forced about seven million to eight million rural laborers to return to their hometowns.

The report said that the average income of China's farmers would be reduced about 35 yuan (about US$4.5 US dollars) in the second quarter of 2003 and the growth rate of cash income of the farmers would be down three percent on last year.

The DRC predicted in the report that the employment pressure and financial difficulties of those rural and urban underdeveloped residents would be the major issues for China's economic development in future.

SARS worsened China's employment situation which had already been struggling, Zhang said, vowing that China had to boost labor-intensive industries and provide necessary assistance to small and medium-scaled enterprises to help create more job opportunities and offset the negative SARS effects.

China would rebuild confidence in the country's service industries by improving service quality, Zhang said, creating a clean and safe industrial environment and promoting healthy consumption.

The recovery of the tourism and civil aviation sectors would be the key for China to shake off the SARS shadow, Zhang said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 16, 2003)

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