24 May 2019
A healthy balance between urban and rural development is key to China's economic transformation. Photo: Reuters
A healthy balance between urban and rural development is key to China's economic transformation. Photo: Reuters

POLICY WATCH: Urbanization not the end of villages

China faces a difficult task in managing the aftermath of its massive urbanization program, with hundreds of millions of people expected to be left in the countryside.

The challenge is to turn what’s left of productive villages into modern agricultural economies, Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu {韓長賦} said.

Urbanization is not only moving villagers into cities but also ensuring a healthy balance between rural and urban development. “It will not make the countryside perish but boost the harmonious development of new cities and villages,” Han said.

Agricultural modernization offers an opportunity for an estimated 450 million remaining rural residents to benefit from the unprecedented human migration.

After years of heady growth fueled by exports and investment, China is single-mindedly pursuing urbanization as part of a broader effort to transform itself into a consumption-based economy.

The plan calls for relocating 70 percent of its 1.3 billion-strong population to urban areas over the next 20 years.     

That has raised concern about other development issues such as an ageing population, lack of economic opportunities and a widening income gap between rural and urban areas.

With younger people moving to cities in search of employment opportunities, villages are left with elderly residents and the poor who have little means to keep the land productive.

This is where the government comes in to ensure continued productivity by fostering modern agriculture, maintaining a balanced rural-urban development, easing rural poverty and strengthening social stability. 

Han said one of the biggest obstacles to moving millions of rural holdouts is the fact that they cannot — or would not — leave their homes. The urbanization plan should include building new rural villages, not simply new cities, he said.

These new villages and cities should complement each other, with all the living standards and conveniences of modern living more widely shared.

In this, local governments have a key role. They should ensure farmers’ rights are protected and their wishes respected. For instance, they should not be forced to live in high-rises, Han said.

There is enough room for rural villages and cities to co-exist, and even after full urbanization has been achieved, it should not be the end of the country’s rural life, he said.

Villages can become tourist destinations and a haven for stressed city dwellers to unwind or their families to enjoy weekends and visits.

That will require spending by the government on public infrastructure to make these areas accessible, safe and clean. On the other hand, the private sector should be encouraged to build modern farmhouses and help preserve rural culture and traditions.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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