Hu's calls on household registration reform face opposition
President Hu Jintao’s calls for faster reforms to the out-of-date household registration system face strong resistance from local government officials, the Jinghua Times reported on Monday.
Household registration, or hukou, which covers every family in mainland China, records people as either town dwellers or rural peasants. Many blame it for causing discrimination against peasants who move to cities, where their identity prevents them from gaining access to services like health care and education for their children.
At the 18th party congress, which continues this week in Beijing, Hu has called for faster reform of the registration system and expanded public welfare coverage for all citizens, whatever their household origin.
But scholars say the reform effort is encountering strong opposition from local government officials, because it would unleash financially ruinous demands for social welfare spending, the Jinghua Times newspaper said.
Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the state council has issued several orders for reforms since 2001, but they were blocked by fierce resistance at the local government level.
Reforms bring heavy financial pressure on local governments, says agricultural economics scholar Zheng Fengtian. The social welfare costs needed to cover tens of millions of rural migrants, when they arrive in big cities, are too heavy for local governments to handle, he said.
A blue paper from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences forecasts that 500 million peasants will move from the countryside to the mainland’s cities within the next 20 years. Including them in social welfare programmes will cost between 40 trillion and 50 trillion yuan (HK$49 trillion and HK$62 trillion), it estimates.
This situation will be especially intense in coastal regions, where the mobile population will surpass the number of city residents, Zheng added.
Professor Hu said market mechanisms would solve the problems that concern local officials. “When [rural migrants] find cities overcrowded, and the unemployment rate and housing prices too high, they will eventually leave the cities,” he said.
He warned that delaying reforms will only increase the risks, saying “what matters most is the central government’s determination on reform”.
There are currently 271 million people in the mainland who are not living in the location of their household registration, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Dang Guoying, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said “without proper reform of household registration, peasants cannot benefit from urbanisation, which will intensify social disparities and eventually bring stagnation to China’s development”.