Plans for 400 million to move to cities face logistical and financial hurdles
Plans for big migration from rural areas over next decade may cause funding and logistical problems for urban authorities, analysts say
Plans to allow more people from rural areas to move to the cities - where they can get better healthcare, education and social services - will present massive logistical and financial problems, analysts say.
Researchers said the urban population could rise by 400 million in the coming years, with a big question mark over whether the local authorities would have the cash to cope.
Communist Party leaders discussing urbanisation at a top-level meeting last week suggested a gradual easing of the hukou, or household registration system, to allow more people from the countryside to move to cities.
Allowing migrant workers full rights as urban residents was one of the government's priorities, state media reported.
The meeting said the registrations would first be made easier in small cities and townships and later in medium-sized cities. But "reasonable conditions'' should be enforced for settling in big cities, while the population in mega cities should be "strictly controlled".
Yuan Chongfa , vice-president of the China City Development Academy, said this might help rural people wanting to move to small cities in the future, but would be of little use to most migrant workers today.
"Most existing migrant workers are living in provincial capitals, the so-called big cities and mega cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, instead of small and medium-sized ones, which are not attractive to farmers, at least for now," he said.
"If the 'reasonable conditions' and 'strict control' in the big and mega cities allow only a small proportion of these people to have household registration, then it means a great number of migrant workers would be expelled, which is unfair," he said.
The government's urbanisation plan has stressed that solving the household registration problem for existing migrant workers would be one of the party's main tasks. By the end of last year, the urban population exceeded rural numbers for the first time, with city dwellers accounting for 51.2 per cent of the mainland's citizens.
But the percentage would drop to under 35 per cent if migrant workers who do not have urban registration were excluded, the former director of the National Bureau of Statistics, He Keng , told a forum last year.
Sheng Guangyao , a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, said: "Human-focused urbanisation is an issue of providing equal public services, which involves changes in housing, education, etc, and not just easing the household registration system - although that alone is a very difficult task."
Sheng said funding could be the main sticking point for the massive project, which would see the urban population increase by 400 million over the next decade.
An academy report issued last week showed that by the end of last year, 36 local governments audited faced a total debt of over 3.8 trillion yuan (HK$4.8 trillion).
Under the existing taxation system, the central government collects most tax revenue while local governments do the spending, forcing them to rely on land sales to balance the books.
The report said steps should be taken to improve local taxation systems, to "set up a system for managing local bond issuance'' and to "encourage private capital investment in public infrastructure and facilities''.
Dang Guoying a researcher at the CASS Rural Development Institute, said urbanisation should focus on increasing the size of the middle class, but government ownership of land in urban areas was a major stumbling block.
"It's a process of improving life quality. People should live comfortably after moving into cities," Dang said.
"The fact is, in order to buy a home in the city, we are using up our parents' and grandparents' life savings because of skyrocketing prices.
"We live in densely populated communities, while a huge area of land is occupied by the government and suburban land is made into golf courses and parks that are not open to the public."