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Premier Li Keqiang: innovation, people key to new urbanization

Chen Mengwei
Updated: Sep 20,2014 2:43 PM

“I used to be a peasant. I know how hard it is to be a traditional peasant. The ultimate goal of new urbanization is to benefit the peasants,” Premier Li Keqiang said on Sept 16 as he presided over a work conference concerning new urbanization.

Officials from the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Anhui province, Honghe prefecture of Yunnan province, Jinjiang city of Fujian province, Maqiao town of Shandong province told the premier about their experience and suggestions on new urbanization. Li said new urbanization is related to the nation’s modernization, which can be of significant strategic importance.

Li stressed that enhancing innovation and putting people first are crucial to pushing forward new urbanization. He urged officials to reform and innovate, to first explore with pilot projects, and push forward people-oriented new urbanization “in a down-to-earth manner”.

Yang Hongbo, Party secretary of Honghe, Yunnan province, said that as Honghe is located in a hilly area, the local government found a way to relocate towns and industries to the hills. The premier expressed great interest, saying: “The arable land per capita in China is indeed limited, and the experience of Honghe is worth studying and promoting.”

He urged relevant departments to encourage local governments to explore “with greater courage”, as long as measures are taken to protect the environment and prevent geological disasters.

“Sometimes, local people create good methods that are worth promoting, but once the experience is summed up, the government will seek to adopt these methods and ask for administrative approval before any promotion can be done,” Li said. “Some government staff are used to taking control of everything, and that kind of work style must be changed.”

Liu Wenru, mayor of Jinjiang, Fujian province, told the premier that a government-backed investment company provides financial support to the city’s construction projects by issuing bonds. Li encouraged financial institutions to provide more funds to support urbanization by making the investment profitable and controlling risks.

Li also said new urbanization is an urgent mission to support the nation’s economic development, and not only a long-term project that helps upgrade the structure of the entire economy.

“Urbanization is our biggest domestic demand, as well as a part of the chain of industry and consumption. When the process of urbanization is completed, peasants will have moved into cities, shanty towns will be upgraded, as will household goods like furniture and appliances. This represents a great need for consumption. Even companies providing cleaners and security guards as well as small restaurants in a community can create a lot of jobs,” Li said.

The urbanization will also benefit people who stay in villages, he added, as the cultivated land per capita and productivity will increase as more peasants move into cities — which will help to push forward the modernization of agriculture.

Li emphasized that, by 2020, the government will have helped about 100 million migrant workers from the countryside to settle in cities and towns where they work and live, it will have improved the housing conditions of about 100 million people who used to live in shanty towns and poor villages in cities, and it will have encouraged about 100 million people to move into cities and towns in China’s central and western regions.

Li said the situation varies significantly in different places around the country, and experiments in pilot zones should first be carried out to push forward new urbanization. The government has chosen 62 pilot zones at different administrative levels and in various regions of China to carry out the trials — among which medium and small cities, counties and towns will be the focus.

Li said the urbanization faces two obstacles regarding the system. The first and most crucial one concerns people. He urged officials to respect the wishes of peasants and create conditions — based on their capabilities — for them to settle in cities and towns.

“During my research in some places, I noticed that some peasants still prefer to keep their rural hukous. That’s because they do not want to give up their land in their village, not because they do not want to live in a modern apartment with plumbing and gas,” Li said.

He also said another problem concerns funds. Infrastructure construction is an important issue in new urbanization, and the government is required to make plans and implement policies.

Based on local experiences, there are two major ways to do the job: one is to issue bonds to finance the construction projects, as long as the risk is controllable; the other way is to attract private capital to participate in the investment and management of the infrastructure projects, especially of those with low operating costs and high annual returns, like sewage pipes and water plants, Li said.

The premier said that pilot zones should be given more room for flexibility and leeway — when dealing with the problems of people and funds — so as to allow more experiments.

“The Chinese economy has great resilience, flexibility and room for maneuver. It offers much potential — and urbanization is part of this potential,” Li said.

Li urged officials in all pilot zones to strengthen the reforms. After he listened to a report about reform in empowering county-level governments in Jinjiang city of Fujian province, Li asked local authorities to try the reform without hiring more government staff. He suggested further strengthening the city’s competitiveness by purchasing services from the rest of society and expanding the government’s scope of management and service.

“When I worked in the countryside, the biggest wish of the peasants around me was to live an urban life and become a city dweller,” Li said. “Now we are pushing forward new urbanization, with the ultimate goal to benefit peasants.”