Communist Party, State Council Set Rural Reform Goals for 2006

October 4, 2006

The Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued an Opinion on Promoting the Construction of a New Socialist Countryside on December 31, 2005. The People's Daily published the Opinion on February 22, 2006. On February 23, the State Council issued an English language press briefing on the Opinion.

The Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued an Opinion on Promoting the Construction of a New Socialist Countryside on December 31, 2005. The People's Daily published the Opinion on February 22, 2006. On February 23, the State Council issued an English language press briefing on the Opinion.

The joint Opinion sets out key policy goals related to rural development for 2006. These include: refocusing investment priorities on rural areas, addressing problems facing migrants, and advancing proposals for reform to the land requisition system. The Opinion reflects increased central concern regarding social tensions generated by rural-urban inequality, corruption, and the lack of meaningful oversight of local officials. For more details on the opinion, click on "more" below.

Rural Development

The Opinion calls for Chinese authorities to shift their development priorities to rural areas. It calls for "the industrial sector to repay the agricultural sector," for the establishment of "a long-term mechanism for urban areas to support [the growth of] rural ones," and for "key state infrastructure efforts to shift toward rural areas." Chen Xiwen, Deputy Director of the General Office of the Central Leading Group for Finance and Economics, spoke at the February 23 press conference accompanying the public release of the joint Opinion, noting that the Opinion reflects, in part, central government concern with an increasingly unequal ratio between urban and rural incomes. The current ratio is 3.22:1.

The joint Opinion makes several specific commitments to provide increased services to rural residents. It calls for authorities to exempt rural students in western China from additional schooling fees for the nine years of compulsory education, beginning in 2006. It calls for the expansion of this program to rural areas nationwide in 2007. On January 4, the State Council approved in principle an amended draft of the Compulsory Education Law to ensure central and provincial government funding for compulsory education and to standardize the collection of school fees. The Opinion also calls for an increase in experimental use of rural health cooperatives with increased central and provincial funding in 2006, and for the adoption of these cooperatives nationwide in 2008.

Migrant Issues

The joint Opinion calls for the protection of the legal rights of migrant workers. It explicitly calls for reforms to the Chinese hukou (household registration) system and the elimination of discriminatory regulations that limit the ability of migrants to work in urban areas. For more information on the hukou system, see the Commission's recent topic paper on the subject. The Opinion also calls for gradually constructing a social security network for migrants, exploring the provision of medical insurance for serious illnesses to migrants, and providing education for migrant children.

The Opinion reflects top-level attention to serious issues concerning discrimination against migrants and their inability to obtain urban public services. Some of the content repeats prior central statements, and previous efforts at hukou reform have stalled under local government opposition. The Opinion's call for eliminating discriminatory regulations that restrict urban employment opportunities for migrants reiterates a previous appeal made by the State Council in 2004. Government statements in late 2005 about hukou reform and the expansion of public services to migrants encountered resistance from local governments responsible for funding such services. Chen Xiwen remarked in his press conference that the complexity of "attached benefits" linked to hukou identification is a primary reason that the central government will not press for a single plan for hukou reform, according to a February 23 Ta Kung Pao article. Instead, he noted, Chinese authorities will allow localities to adopt their own reforms without central government pressure on local governments.

The Opinion also calls for attention to the labor rights of migrant workers. It instructs authorities to take practical steps to resolve the problem of unpaid back wages owed to migrants. It also calls for migrant workers to be included in the workers’ compensation system.

For more information on the Chinese hukou system and related reforms, see the chart of various national and provincial hukou reforms through the end of 2004 on the Freedom of Residence page of the Commission's Web site, the Commission's 2004 and 2005 Annual Reports, and the Commission's recent roundtable on hukou reform.

Party Control

he Opinion calls for maintaining Party control, emphasizing that grassroots Party organizations should continue to play "the key leadership role" and that the Party's "advanced education" campaign should be carried out in rural China. The Opinion calls for strengthening village autonomous institutions (including elected village committees) that are "brimming with vitality," but "under village Party leadership." It also explicitly calls for the mobilization of the China Youth League and the Women's Federation, two of the Party's mass organizations. The Opinion also calls for systems in which citizens have the rights of "information, participation, and supervision" of government actions. The idea of citizen political participation, however, is secondary to the principle of Party control. In a separate joint opinion issued in late 2005, the General Offices of the Party and State Council specified that officials should construct a system in which "the Party leads, the government bears responsibility, society assists, and the people participate."

The Opinion calls for a degree of government restructing, such as reducing the number of township and town government personnel between 2006 and 2011. It also permits selected localities to adopt reforms that would allow provincial governments to exercise direct financial administration over county authorities, bypassing prefectural governments. The Opinion discusses these changes in conjunction with the central government's abolition of the agricultural tax in 2006, suggesting that efforts to control the size of local governments may be linked to the goal of reducing government expenditures. Local experiments in Anhui province to reduce the number of local officials have resulted in the merger of government and Party positions, thereby concentrating increased power in the hands of a smaller number of Party officials.

For more information on governance in China, see section V(d), on Democratic Governance and Legislative Reform, of the Commission's 2005 Annual Report.

Property Reforms

he Opinion calls for authorities to "increase the pace of reform to the land requisition system" and "improve mechanisms for providing fair compensation to farmers who have had their land requisitioned." The opinion also calls for strengthening job training programs and social assistance programs for displaced farmers.

Chen Xiwen's remarks to the press on February 23 emphasized that any reform would be "gradual," according to a February 23 Beijing News article. He noted that the Chinese Constitution does not permit the sale and purchase of land, and that authorities are currently researching how to reform the system of land requisitions.

Changes to Rural Civil Society

The Opinion calls on authorities to "develop new forms of rural social service organizations." It notes that, while authorities should continue to strengthen collective and state grassroots economic entities, "they should also encourage the development of new forms of social service organizations. [Officials should] promote the development of agricultural product industrial associations, guiding agricultural producers [and enterprises] to increase their autonomy, provide information, and uphold the interests of their members."

Chinese scholars highlight the weakness of civil society organizations as a significant problem in rural China. Wen Tiejun of the Agriculture and Rural Development Institute at People's University noted that "In the wake of the abolition of the agricultural tax, an organizational and structural void has appeared [in rural China]," according to a February 22 article in the 21st Century Business Herald. One survey of rural organizations suggests that only about 22 percent of all organizations to which rural respondents belonged were registered. Officials have emphasized the need for more independent rural civil society organizations. "Aside from [reforming] county and township [governments], the most basic question we want to resolve in building a new countryside is how to develop farmers' own autonomous and collective organizations" said Xu Xiaoqing, Deputy Director of the Rural Division of the State Council's Development Research Center, in the 21st Century Business Herald article. The Zhejiang provincial government has experimented with more independent forms of rural professional farmers' associations. For more information, see section V(a), on The Development of Civil Society, of the Commission's 2005 Annual Report.

Population Planning Policy

The Opinion calls for the expanded use of experimental systems that provide financial rewards to households that comply with the government's population planning policies.

Chinese authorities use coercive fines to enforce population planning policies, which limit the number of children that women may bear. Reports continue of local officials using physical coercion to enforce compliance with these policies, resulting in sex-selective abortions of female infants and a severe gender imbalance in many rural areas. Since 2000, Chinese officials have begun to introduce pilot projects that provide small sums of money to individuals who comply with population planning policies, while continuing to punish non-compliance. For more information, see section III(i), on Population Planning, of the Commission's 2005 Annual Report.

Prior Anhui Opinion

Many elements of the Opinion and several key phrases repeat calls in the Opinion on Comprehensive Rural Reform Experiments In Constructing New Mechanisms For Grassroots Rural Work [Anhui Opinion] jointly issued by the general offices of the Anhui Provincial Party and government on June 27, 2005. The Anhui Opinion directs local officials to select one county in every prefecture to engage in reform experiments, and report back on their results by the end of July 2006.

Several significant differences exist between the Anhui Opinion and the Opinion on Promoting the Construction of a New Socialist Countryside (Opinion). First, the Opinion's discussion of migrant interests and hukou reform is absent in the Anhui Opinion. Second, the Opinion's explicit call for local Party leadership over reform efforts is absent in the Anhui Opinion. Third, the Anhui Opinion's explicit call for "exploring the construction of a mechanism for the protection of interests that merges both government legal services and farmers' own rights protection efforts [nongmin ziwo weiquan]" has no corollary in the Opinion. These differences reflect relatively greater attention to Party control and migrant issues in the Opinion issued by national authorities.