A top scholar has called for an inclusive and market-oriented approach to address problems with China’s urbanization in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).
Cai Fang, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who participated in crafting the plan, said at a forum on Sept 29 that policymakers should reflect upon previous urbanization approaches that excluded unprivileged migrant workers and handpicked specific industries for government to foster.
The comments come as the number of rural residents migrating to cities looking for jobs in the first half of 2015 increased by a mere 0.1 percent to 174 million, compared with the 1.9 percent increase last year and more than 8 percent in 2007, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.
Cai called for a more inclusive approach in absorbing the migrant population, regardless of their education levels, skills and origins. Past practices of the major cities, he said, set too many hurdles for less-educated, low-skilled people to integrate into cities.
He said urbanization should involve more than just labor, capital and industries.
“A vibrant city is open to all kinds of people. Creativity and innovation are not the privilege of a few elites,” he said.
Cai said the 13th Five-Year Plan should also revamp its approach to fostering industry, giving the market a bigger say in which industries prosper in a region.
He noted that in China’s northeast, the overcapacity of resource-dependent, heavy-polluting industries such as steel and equipment manufacturing led to a recent sharp economic slowdown.
“If you look at those industries plagued by overcapacity now, many of them were identified by local governments as pillar industries, even strategically emerging industries, a few years ago. The lesson is that no matter how smart you are, you cannot decide which industry will prosper tomorrow,” he said.
Reckless city planning has been reflected in local governments pouring billions of yuan annually into various “strategically emerging industries” and the “new zones” planned to house these industries.
Provincial capitals have plans for an average of 4.6 “new zones”, while the number is 1.5 for prefecture-level cities, according to Guo Renzhong, an expert in city planning at the China Engineering Academy.