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China’s Third Plenum and urban reforms

Raising China's flag in Kunming new town, Ai Chi-Han

Last month, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee was held in Beijing. A number of important decisions were made during this event. Western media has focused mostly on the role of the market in the economy and the possible alleviation of the one-child policy. These measures would certainly impact the country deeply, but other possible reforms need to be brought to attention, especially regarding China’s urbanisation.

  • According to the decisions made during this third plenum, the hukou system (household registration system) will be reformed. Although there is no intention of ending this system yet, according to the committee’s intentions hukou control will depend on city size: migrants will be able to move to small cities quite easily, but will have a harder time moving to large cities like Shanghai. From this measure, we can surmise that the Central government still wants to control migration.
  • Another point, maybe the most important one, concerns land right reforms and the start of rural lands marketisation. This policy will have many consequences: it will increase urbanisation but also improve agricultural productivity. We can also note that, with rural land marketisation, farmers will be better protected when faced with the land development projects of the local governments: transactions will have to be made at the market (fair) price.
  • More attention will be given to upgrading social welfare programmes in rural areas in order to reduce inequalities between urban and rural inhabitants. The latter will be given better access to education and healthcare.

These measures, if implemented, would help rural people to integrate modern Chinese society. They would certainly help appease the rural population and reduce social discontent. However, local authorities may be resistant to implementing these measures if they have to finance them. In order to really know these good intentions will be followed through, Beijing needs to provide more practical details on these policies.

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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