Senior officials said China is determined to step up its efforts to enforce the national strategy of sustainable development with emphasis on environmental protection.
"It is time for action," said Yang Weimin, a senior official with the National Development and Reform Commission, at a workshop in Beijing Monday to discuss the Chinese version of the World Development Report 2003 written by a group of World Bank experts.
He said China's highest authorities highlighted their determination to achieve a balanced development of economic, human and environmental priorities at the recent Third Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The Party outlined the country's major objectives for the market economy, stressing the need for maintenance of balanced social development during strategic adjustments in the economy.
The country has long been in a fever to pursue rapid economic growth. Many take it for granted that an economic boom will automatically propel development in all areas of society.
Although such a belief has motivated China's spectacular economic growth in recent years, it has also created some thorny problems such as environment degradation, the widening income gap and inadequate social welfare services.
Yang said the only solution to the problems is to introduce a balanced development mode to replace the old, outdated approach.
Yang said his commission is seeking suggestions from the World Bank on sustainable development and the input is likely to be written up as guidelines in China's 11th Five-year Development Plan (2006-2010).
World Bank research manager Zmarak Shalizi said that poverty, income inequality and environmental deterioration will continue to be major obstacles to China's sustainable development in the years ahead.
"Despite the fact that poverty is decreasing, it's still a big challenge for China," said Shalizi, the lead writer of the report.
Official statistics indicate the per capita income in the affluent eastern region was 2.15 times that in the northwestern countryside in 2000, compared to a maximum of 1.68 times in 1978.
The one-side emphasis on economic growth has also led to deterioration of the ecological system.
The country's desert area has been expanding at a rate of 2,460 square kilometres per year since the early 1990s, threatening the livelihood of about 400 million people, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"As time goes by, the results of lopsided development will magnify and bring increasing harm to China's fundamental economic and social development if correct actions are not taken in time," said the expert.
China expects that its GDP will be triple to realize the so-called "xiaokang" or well-off, society.
To sustain such "economic miracles," it will need to maintain an average annual growth of 8 per cent, and exploit the needed resources, said R.C. Lao, a Canadian Chinese and a State Council environmental expert.
Aside from other problems on the bumpy road, insufficient resources could be the single greatest threat to block realization of the rosy scenario.
Lao said the traditional dependence on resource consumption must give way to a new ecological mode including recycling.
(Xinhua News Agency October 29, 2003)