Beijing urged to use market-driven tactics, not 'forced exodus', to ease crowding

Urban development chief says officials can no longer order mass relocation from overcrowded capital, but should instead rely on incentives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 7:41am

Beijing needs to use economic incentives to lure people away from the crowded capital toward neighbouring provinces, a senior urban development official says.

Li Tie, director general of the China Centre for Urban Development at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), cautioned against forcing people out of the capital, and instead urged officials to let the market drive the migration rather than government edict.

Beijing's population has been growing rapidly, reaching 21.15 million last year and aggravating smog and traffic congestion.

The capital has set population targets to alleviate the pressure. President Xi Jinping broached the need to delegate some of Beijing's administrative functions to nearby Tianjin and Hebei.

Bear in mind that [population mobility] should be an individual choice
Li Tie, director general

A government blueprint pledged to move some state-owned enterprises, universities and government agencies to neighbouring Hebei.

"[Relocation] should not be an administrative measure," Li told a forum last weekend. "They choose to go there when the market sets a path", he added, telling policymakers to "bear in mind" that [population mobility] should be an individual choice.

"It is not the days of Cultural Revolution or mass relocations, where we just kicked tens of thousands of people to the north," he said, referring to a campaign in 1958 that forcibly relocated thousands of soldiers and their families to the north to develop the impoverished region.

Rather than moving high-quality health care and educational institutions out of Beijing, Li suggested building such hospitals and schools in the so-called "satellite" areas.

Universities and government headquarters may be relocated to Hebei, or to Beijing's suburbs. But, Li says, this would not stop people flocking to the capital.

The Hebei cities of Langfang and Baoding have already been earmarking funds for infrastructure upgrades, reportedly in preparation for hosting some branches of Beijing's administrative departments, hospitals and research institutes.

This is part of NDRC-led efforts to develop the Jing-Jin-Ji (shorthand for Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei) region.

Li cautioned policymakers against nudging low- and middle-income residents out of Beijing because they are an important source of labour, according to The Beijing News.

Sun Jianhai, a professor at the Institute of Industrial Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was possible to reduce the population by relocating industrial sectors that are not in keeping with the nation's capital, with the suburbs or Hebei as viable relocation locations.

Sun disagreed with Li's market-driven approach and said it was possible to move populations by administrative measures, such as moving central-level state-owned enterprises out of the city.

"It is not a market-based decision since we are talking about central-level state-owned enterprises," said Sun. "They can move out and ease pressure simply by administrative order."

Talented staff may resist a move out of Beijing, he warned.

With additional reporting from Andrea Chen