10/12/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Five-year plan acknowledges that economic boom has generated poverty

In 20 years of economic growth, cities have benefited at the expense of rural areas. Plenum told that it is urgent to "improve housing, education, culture, health care and the environment", but not how.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China wants to double its gross domestic product or GDP and per capita income (from US$ 854 in 2000 to US$ 1,700) by 2010, this according to the 11th Five-Year plan economic blueprint set out at the plenum of the Communist Party. The same document acknowledged however that poverty has become widespread in rural areas. The report noted in fact that farmers' average annual income now stood at only about 3,000 yuan (US$ 330) per capita, whilst in the booming cities it averaged more than US$ 1,000.

Tensions over the income disparity and dissatisfaction over corruption, pollution and other social problems have, according to the experts, prompted protests and clashes with authorities.

The Party is thus calling for raising standards of living through, among other things, greater energy and resource use efficiency. Energy use per unit of GDP must be reduced by 20 per cent from 2005, the plan says.

The plan also reiterates China's determination to build up internationally competitive industrial groups, improve social welfare and reduce the number of people living in poverty.

It calls for "social fairness" and working toward closing the politically explosive gap between the urban rich who have benefited most from China's 20-year economic boom and its vast poor majority in the countryside.

In a press release carried by Chinese media, the party said that "[p]ushing economic development and improving people's lives have always been the central task of China. The income and living standards of Chinese people will be raised, while the quality of housing, communication, education, culture, public health and the environment will be improved remarkably."

Even though China's economy has been growing at a rate of more than 9 per cent for years, many observers have noted that standards of living have not improved for of the entire population. Only an urban minority has benefited; indeed, rural communities have seen things actually get worse (greater pollution, poor health care, deficient education system, high unemployment, low-paying jobs, forced migration to the cities, rise of a new lumpenproletariat without rights).

According to government figures, some 26 million people were living in absolute poverty last year, with an average annual per capita income of less than 668 yuan (US$ 75). However, by international standards, which put minimum income at a minimum of US$ 1 a day, the number of poor is much higher.

Economic growth has also meant cuts in public spending in services such as education and health care, essential for the country's development and the population's welfare. (PB)

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