Bid to double rural incomes by 2020
Josephine Ma in Beijing
Government pledges to boost spending on social welfare in countryside
The elite Central Committee of the Communist Party yesterday set a target to double the per capita disposable income of rural residents by 2020 from 2008 and pledged to increase government spending on social welfare in the countryside.
A communique issued after the four-day plenum said the government would focus on modernisation of the agricultural sector and integrate the rural and urban economies.
The government would also boost consumption of rural residents by a large margin and eliminate absolute poverty in rural areas by 2020, the communique said. About 15 million of the rural population still lived in absolute poverty, Xinhua said.
Per capita disposable income for rural residents was 4,140 yuan last year, and the government is expecting a 6 per cent rise this year, according to Xinhua.
Rural experts said the target for income growth in the communique was too conservative.
Huang Zuhui , director of the Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development of Zhejiang University, said: 'Having farmers' income double in 12 years, that does not sound very exciting.'
Dang Guoying , a rural expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the 2020 goal was a new target but not surprising.
'They already set a target for 5 per cent annual growth of farmers' income earlier, and it is not a surprise that farmers' income can double by 2020.'
No major change of land policies was mentioned, although more details of the rural policies discussed in the plenum could be released in the coming days.
Scholars and media have been speculating on major changes of land policies from the plenum after a visit to Xiaogang village, Anhui province , by President Hu Jintao on October 1. Mr Hu told villagers in Xiaogang - the origin of the mainland's household responsibility system and symbol of contracted land reform - the leadership would allow various forms of transfer of rural land-use rights.
The remark sparked speculation that party leaders would openly endorse experiments on trading rural land-use rights carried out in various parts of the country in the past few years.
Many scholars also called for the extension of the land contracts of farmland, which will expire in 2028, for another 70 years or even indefinitely.
It remains unclear whether the government will allow the sale of rural residential land, a measure experts believe would release massive wealth into the rural economy.
Beijing is eager to create a large domestic market as it can no longer rely on exports with the crumbling of the global financial market.
The communique also highlighted more government funding to social services in the countryside.
The targets include 'allowing all rural residents to have the opportunity to receive a good education, providing basic security in the countryside, and improving basic medicare services and rural social-service management'. Dr Huang said the government was unlikely to carry out radical land reform before it had established a comprehensive social welfare system in the countryside as land was the last means of social security for farmers.
The communique also said it would strengthen party rule in the countryside and improve grass-roots elections at the village level.
However, it offered little insight as to how to curb the rampant corruption and violations of central government policies among party secretaries and village officials except stressing it would step up moral education of party cadres.