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China pledges to focus on the poor and inequalities

At the opening of the National People’s Congress in China on Saturday, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao promised that the ‘have-nots’ would be at the centre of the country’s development goals over the next five years.

In his two-hour talk, the premier spoke of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) and how it would outline strategies for raising living standards and distributing wealth, so that all citizens could enjoy the successes of economic development. He recognised this would involve a more balanced approach to the country’s rapid growth, as well as the need to tackle some of the resulting problems, such as the cost to the environment and rising inflation. With unrest around the world over high food prices, the premier did not rule out the possibility of introducing controls over food prices if it should prove necessary.

The minister for the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Zhang Pang, echoed the words of the Premier when he said the Chinese authorities would now be “giving prominence to securing and improving people’s livelihoods”. The ‘Global Times’ reported the minister as saying that the country’s rapid economic growth had laid the “foundation” for China’s development, but further work was now needed in “income distribution, employment and public services, as well as healthcare, education and other social security fields”. Other areas of focus in the new “public service mechanism” would be culture, infrastructure, housing and environmental protection. On the environment, China has targets to increase the country’s use of non-fossil fuels to 15% of the nation’s total fuel consumption. And 600 billion dollars has been pledged for investment in sectors focusing on clean energy, environmental protection and scientific research and technology innovations.

China’s FYP is central to the strategy and planning of the authorities and will help to shape decisions made about the country’s economic and social development. However, even if the roadmap is laid out clearly, commentators say that as with any political system, only time will tell if the objectives and targets can be met. Experts also argue that major administrative reforms will be needed to ensure a more equal society in China. One such reform would be a change in the household registration system, or hukou, which classifies Chinese people according to whether they were born in urban or rural areas. In some towns and cities, under the hukou system, rural migrants have difficulty accessing the same level of public services if they are registered as rural workers. This means that many migrants have to send their children back home for them to receive an education. A BBC reporter spoke to one family who had lived in Beijing for 18 years, but whose 17-year old daughter had to attend school back in their home province of Henan. Talking of living without their daughter, the mother said “it’s no use being angry – that’s just the way it is.” But with China’s new focus on changing inequalities, perhaps this may change in the future.

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