A security minister has stoutly defended China's controversial hukou - household registration - system, dashing the hopes of critics who say Beijing should drop it because it demeans rural residents. Public Security Vice-Minister Bao Suixian said yesterday that the system would continue to be 'an important component of our country's administrative system and will exist for a long time', Xinhua reported. 'The hukou will not be abolished - not now and not in the future,' he said. He added the ministry had finished storing the details of one billion Chinese on computer and data on 600 million were now accessible online. Mr Bao said China was not the only country which defined its citizens by where they were born, claiming similar systems were in place in countries including Japan, Thailand, Sweden and Norway. 'They only call them by different names,' he said. Beijing announced in August it planned to revamp the registration system, allowing more rural residents to live and work in small cities and towns legally, a right denied them under the system. Rural residents are often fined and repatriated if they or their families are caught by police. Social critics say it is discriminatory and counters the Government's urbanisation programme, essential to absorb hundreds of millions of surplus labourers in the countryside. But Mr Bao said the system had a crucial role to play in China's modernisation and provided the Government with statistics when drafting development plans. He added crime prevention was another key reason why the system had to stay. Rural migrants are often blamed for soaring crime rates in cities. Xinhua quoted Mr Bao as saying an identity card system would not be enough as the cards lacked information available in the household-registration booklets issued to each person. Quoting statistics provided by the Public Security Ministry, Xinhua reported that a total of 1.38 million rural residents had completed their registration forms to settle in small cities and provinces such as Liaoning, Henan and Xinjiang by the end of mid-December. Therefore, the agency said, the relaxation announced in August had been a success.