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People's Daily Online>>Opinion

Hukou policy changes reflect gradual reform

(Global Times)

10:41, February 26, 2012

The State Council has issued new regulations to make hukou, or household registration, in small- and medium-sized cities more flexible. These latest policies do not apply to major cities. Admittedly, doing so is in line with China's current circumstances. Restrictions for the hukou system in key cities are expected to be gradually relaxed, although no timetable has yet been set.

The reform of the hukou system is a microcosm of the country's gradual overall reform. People's mobility around the country has vastly improved compared with 30 years ago. Yet the dual system structure of rural and urban areas in terms of governance is still in place, although disparities have been greatly reduced.

The momentum of hukou reform largely comes from the public. China's industrialization and urbanization have ushered in demographic changes. The authorities are more of a party that has acknowledged and standardized that process. Meanwhile, small breakthroughs for major cities are not what the government is hoping for. The big cities cannot afford to undergo reforms on the same scale due to their capacities.

Historically, many reform breakthroughs were initiated by the public, such as the household contract responsibility system and private lending, to name but a few. Some of them started humbly, or even by violating the regulations of the time. So-called government guidance was in fact the government's approval and protection of innovations carried out by the public.

China's reforms have hit impasses in some areas. Obstruction against reform efforts seems to be the root cause.

In fact, society lacks the momentum needed to make any breakthrough a reality. The desired outcome fails to overwhelm the predicted negative consequences, and society is unconvinced.

Looking back to its history and learning from others' experiences, China has nurtured a mature positive mentality toward reform and an understanding of the delicate nature of implementing it. The objection to radical reform tremendously outweighs reluctance to reform.

Over the years, more policies were designed to limit public power, and more social welfare programs were made available to vulnerable groups. The robust nature and the urgency of China's reforms have outperformed those in the West.

The destiny of the hukou system in large cities is more than just a moral issue. Western approaches are not the ultimate solution, given the discrepancy in population. Rigid visa policies adopted by some Western countries function to reduce the burden of population pressure.

The logic of the hukou reforms is unlikely to go against those in other areas, including political reform.

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