The central government recently released an important policy document on building "a new socialist countryside," and established it as one of the primary objectives of the 11th Five-Year (2006-10) Guidelines for National Economic and Social Development currently under discussion by legislators during the ongoing session of the National People's Congress. Here are questions and answers to clarify the national programme.
What does the concept of "a new socialist countryside" mean?
A new socialist countryside means advanced production, improved livelihood, a civilized social atmosphere, clean and tidy villages and efficient management.
Why is the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) putting forward the concept of building a new socialist countryside now?
(1) The social and economic development of China and the need to upgrade people's living standards in the countryside both have made demands on the country's agricultural sector. But so far, the sector has not met those demands because it lacks a solid foundation.
One problem is that the amount of cultivated land is shrinking. Lacking irrigation facilities, many farmers are forced to depend on nature. Both scientific and financial support of the agricultural sector is weak. When disasters occur, losses are huge.
(2) The widening gap in the quality of life between the cities and the countryside demands the nation's attention.
The income gap between rural and urban residents has widened from 2.57 to 1 in 1978 to 3.22 to 1 in 2005. Infrastructure, health care, and educational and cultural undertakings in rural areas are far behind those in the cities.
(3) China's fast-growing economy and its stronger position in the global community have enabled the country to start to provide an atmosphere in which industries support agriculture and cities support the countryside.
(4) Constructing a new countryside is essential to expanding domestic demands.
Farmers, who make up nearly 60 per cent of China's population, have contributed less than one-third of the total retail output. The slow increase in farmers' income is keeping the overall economy from developing any faster.
(5) Building a harmonious society demands that the achievements and responsibilities of economic and social development be shared by all people. Problems in co-ordinating urban and rural development need to be solved because if the gap between urban and rural quality of life grows even wider, a harmonious society would be harder to achieve.
What will China do to build a new countryside?
The programme involves at least eight parts:
(1) More water conservancy facilities will be installed between 2006 and 2010 to irrigate the farmland and allow rural residents to drink safe water.
More than 400 large irrigated areas will have their current facilities upgraded to use water more efficiently. Newly-built irrigation networks will cover 10 million hectares of farmland and 100 million more rural residents will be able to drink safe water.
(2) Road construction will continue with the goal of facilitating farmers' work. The government will spend 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) on road construction between 2006 and 2010. By the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan, all small towns will have road access.
(3) Efforts will be made to expand the use of clean fuels such as marsh gas and solar energy in rural areas.
At least 4.5 million rural households had benefited from the marsh gas project by the end of 2005. In the 11th Five-Year Plan, 22.5 million more rural households will start to use marsh gas. By 2010, 50 model counties will showcase the benefits of green energy, which will account for more than half of the total energy consumed.
(4) The construction of the rural power network will be completed.
Since 1998, the government has put 288.5 billion yuan (US$34.7 billion) into constructing the rural power network. But 20 million rural residents still cannot use electricity now. In the 11th Five-Year Plan, 10 million of them will have electricity by 2010 and the rest by 2015.
(5) The rural education conditions will be improved.
The nine-year compulsory education in rural areas will be secured by the public financial system starting from this year. The central government will invest 125.8 billion yuan (US$15.2 billion) and local governments 92.4 billion yuan (US$11.1 billion) into the programme.
(6) The rural public health care system will be improved.
Starting from this year, both the central and local governments will spend more to construct the rural co-operative medical service system, which is scheduled to cover the countryside by the end of 2008.
And a three-level rural health care service network will be established by 2010 to satisfy residents' needs.
(7) Rural residents will have more access to culture.
In the 11th Five-Year Plan, villages having more than 20 families with electricity will be able to watch television and listen to radio. More small towns will have libraries and physical exercise facilities.
(8) The rural social security system will be improved.
It aims to provide subsistence allowances for the rural poor. Social security systems will also be set up to cover farmers without land and migrant workers.
What are the basic channels to building a new socialist countryside?
There are five:
(1) A funding system should be built in which industries support agriculture and cities support the countryside.
(2) A working mechanism that allows the Party and the government to work together on the overall development of the rural economy and society.
(3) An incentive mechanism should be established to attract farmers to participate in China's development.
(4) A system should be established allowing social forces of all kinds to participate in building a new countryside.
(5) The nation needs a unified economic and social management system to replace the current different management systems in rural and urban areas.
Source: China Daily