02/23/2006, 00.00
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Bold plan to ease rural poverty unveiled

Government and Communist Party say, in a document two weeks before the National People's Congress open its annual meeting.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Scmp) - The mainland has unveiled a bold plan to increase government spending to narrow the widening urban-rural gap and assuage the simmering grievances of the unprivileged rural population. In 2005, incidents of social unrest hit 87,000.

A document jointly issued by the Communist Party leadership and the State Council yesterday on building a "new socialist countryside" will serve as a blueprint for the mainland's rural development and public finance in the next five years.

The document, released only yesterday, said although measures such as the scrapping of the agricultural tax had yielded an increase in grain production, "agriculture and the countryside are still in the stage of crawling uphill, rural infrastructure is weak, rural social service development is backward while the conflict of the widening urban-rural income gap remains prominent".

Its release also comes two weeks before the National People's Congress opens its annual meeting on March 5, with rural reforms expected to top the agenda.

The state propaganda apparatus has been trumpeting a campaign to build a "new socialist countryside" or the "socialist new village movement" in recent months, raising fears that it may turn into another spree of building white elephants. However, the document publicised by Xinhua yesterday – called the "No 1 document", the first major government document released in the year -  said the crux of the programme would be to increase government spending in a wide array of public goods and services previously ignored.

"In 2006, government spending to support agriculture has to be higher than it was last year," it said.

There is no plan to expand village elections to the township level, although the document urges local officials to redouble efforts to resolve social conflicts and step up political education to advocate patriotism and nationalism in the countryside. While offering no significant reforms to resolve the rising unrest caused by land requisitions amid rapid urbanisation, the document pledged to introduce measures to guarantee that some profits derived from land requisitions would be used to protect farmland, and to improve small irrigation systems. It also pledged to reduce the scale of land requisition and step up job training and provision for displaced farmers.

More spending would be funnelled into agricultural research, subsidising rural retail chains, exploring alternative energy use, improving infrastructure for small towns, and rural facilities.

The government would also encourage better home and village designs, and invest more in rural recreational facilities, although it warned against any dramatic demolition of existing structures.

It also pledged to increase direct grain subsidies for farmers, scrap the miscellaneous fees for all rural students by next year and set up rural medical co-operatives nationwide by 2008.

The document also vowed to end the discrimination against rural migrant workers in the cities, including "the strict implementation of the minimum wage system". Plans are also underway to provide accident insurance for all migrant workers and start trials on offering pensions and health-care insurance.

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See also
More democracy in China's rural areas to tackle social protests
Central committee plenum to discuss limited reforms for Chinese farmers
Tensions in rural areas worry Beijing
"Barefoot" doctors are the only medics in rural villages
National People's Congress closes


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