02/02/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Rural population assisted, exploited as a new domestic market

A new document from the communist party to support the rural population and utilize it in the current economic crisis. Preoccupation over social revolts. Hu Jintao: the army should prepare for military clashes.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The economic crisis that is haunting China could be resolved by focusing on rural areas: by making them more developed and exploiting them as a vast potential domestic market. Meanwhile, President Hu Jintao is asking the army to prepare for "military clashes" due to the economic problems that the nation will face this year.

A document published yesterday by the state council and by the central committee of the communist party, warns that 2009 will be "the toughest year" of the century so far, because of the economic slowdown that is leading to the closing of tens of thousands of factories, and a cascade of firings. The text highlights the "special significance" of a project intended for "the development of agriculture and rural areas." The motive is clear: to exploit rural areas as "the biggest potential for boosting domestic demand."

In all of these years of lawless and rapid development, rural areas and their populations have been the sectors most harshly penalized: the prices of agricultural products have been fixed in order to dampen inflation; migrants are paid extremely low salaries, and are provided with no social security (and often are not paid at all); land is appropriated to build new factories; rivers and lakes have been polluted; there is a shortage of educational structures and of support for education (leading 80% percent of children among the rural population to leave school); the lack of health structures; a disparity in income between the city and countryside of between 1:4 and 1:15.

The document released yesterday is the sixth of its kind seeking to address problems in rural areas: a sign of serious concern on the part of the leadership, in the face of growing unemployment and increasingly widespread tensions. Just last month, the national statistics office said that because of the economic crisis and the closing of factories in the cities, there are at least 6 million migrants without work. But today, Che Xiwen, director of the central agricultural office, said that there are at least 20 unemployed migrants, about 15.3% of the entire rural labor force. All of them returned to their villages for the celebration of the Chinese new year, and have not returned to the city.

What the party fears is that these migrants will create social tensions in the countryside, which will be further sharpened by resentment over misery, injustice, the lack of services.

A document published yesterday is prompting local authorities to find jobs for the migrants, and increase incomes for the rural population; to defend their rights to the use of land, stopping the confiscations and unjust selling of this, and guaranteeing legal assistance to those who have been defrauded.

There's a reason for all of this attention. The government has also promised assistance for all rural dwellers who buy household electronics, subsidizing 13% of the purchase price of refrigerators, color televisions, mobile telephones, washing machines. Supermarkets are also expected to become widespread, together with new methods of payment.

In this way, rural areas will become the new market for overproduction in the cities, hit by the global recession.

The document on assistance for rural areas does not overlook the question of security, asking the local authorities to watch over possible social tensions. "We must strengthen the public security network in countryside and prevent hostile forces from using religion to infiltrate our rural communities."

And again in regard to security, president Hu Jintao yesterday urged the military leaders to be obedient to the communist party, and be ready to face "military clashes" this year. In addition to the social tensions created by the economic crisis, there are the anniversaries this year that could cause disorder. In 2009, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China will be celebrated, but also the 20th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square, and the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan revolt.

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