09/11/2008, 00.00
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Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao pledge agricultural and health care reforms

Farmland might be privatised and farmers might get health care insurance. Party congress in October might be key moment. Reforms are urgently needed to cope with dissatisfaction and social unrest.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are trying to draft farming and health care reforms before next October’s congress of the Communist Party so as to contain dissatisfaction and unrest among farmers.

During a recent three-day visit to Henan, Mr Hu said that reforms that began 30 years ago must continue. Thirty years ago the Communist Party under Deng Xiaoping ended collective farming, leasing land to farmers and their families. The change was a great success, increasing farm output by 400 per cent.

Praising reforms introduced 30 years ago, Hu not only said they must continue, but that in the future, “we have to develop modern agriculture” and “public services in rural areas.”

One of problems facing Chinese agriculture is the fact that land belongs to the state and local government. Village chiefs and businessmen have often worked together to seize land from local communities for residential or industrial development, creating tensions and unrest that are increasingly turning violent.

According to government sources, at least 50 per cent of social unrest in China is due to land expropriation. Even so the government has always been opposed to granting farmers ownership to the land. However, it agriculture and land ownership might be reformed this October when the Communist Party meets.

For his part Wen Jiabao chaired a cabinet meeting yesterday to review a draft on a health care reform. This has been two years in the making during which the reform blueprint has not been made public.

Once free for the entire population, health care has been a paid service for years.

Because of their low income most farmers cannot afford any coverage. According to government sources about 4 farmers in 5 do not see any doctor during their lifetime.

Most health care funds go to cities, not the countryside (where most people live), leaving its residents out in the cold, with sub-standard health facilities or none at all.

Two years ago Prime Minister Wen proposed health insurance for all, paid in part by the state and in part by users.

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