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100 million Chinese to get greater city benefits

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Some Chinese tourists shopping/FILE

Some Chinese tourists shopping/FILE

BEIJING, Mar 17 – More than 100 million Chinese are to be given vital documents making them officially residents of the country’s cities under a broad plan for the urbanisation that is crucial to economic growth.

China’s new leaders under President Xi Jinping who took office a year ago have touted “people-centred urbanisation” to raise the quality of life as well as just growth rates.

The “national plan for a new model of urbanisation” calls for measurable improvements such as extended social benefits, improved air quality — an issue that causes widespread public anger — and expanded public transport.

But analysts warned Monday that while the overarching strategy and the inclusion of specific targets were positive, the real question was whether the plan would be put into action.

The plan aims for 60 percent of China’s 1.36 billion people to live in cities by 2020 and for 45 percent to have the vital urban residency registration, or “hukou”, that gives them equal access to social benefits such as education and health care. This would compare with 52.6 percent and 35.3 percent as of 2012.

The stated goals include “work hard to achieve 100 million rural workers and other permanent residents obtaining urban hukou”.

The change would narrow the proportion of urban residents who lack urban hukous — a move which analysts say is crucial in improving living standards for migrants from the countryside, hundreds of millions of whom have moved to the cities in recent decades.

Chinese citizens are tied to a specific location — normally their birthplace or that of their parents — by the hukou system.

It gives them rights to subsidised services there such as medical insurance, or land use in the case of rural residents, which migrants cannot access elsewhere.

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“Urbanisation is a powerful engine for maintaining the sustainable healthy development of the economy,” the plan said.

Rural Chinese, “by becoming urban residents will enjoy better public services, causing the urban consumer pool to continue to expand”, it said, calling domestic demand “a fundamental driver of China’s economic development”.

Experts said implementation was the key issue.

The targets “are important from the point of view that they are solid numbers so that they try to hit them”, said Tom Miller, the Beijing-based author of “China’s Urban Billion”.

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