CHINA has drawn up a long-term plan to regulate the flow of hundreds of millions of rural labourers into cities as officials admitted that almost one in three in China's rural workforce, or about 140 million people, were unemployed. In a separate report in yesterday's People's Daily, China reported that its urban unemployment crept upward to 2.6 per cent last year, or four million unemployed urban workers. The 1992 figure was 2.4 per cent. But the low figure does not reflect unemployment in the countryside, home to 900 million peasants and source of tens of millions of migrant workers heading for cities for jobs every year. Out of the 450 million rural workforce, Labour Vice-Minister Zhu Jiazhen conceded that only 200 million at most could get jobs in farm work, citing that there were only 93.4 million hectares of arable land. A further 100 million were employed in rural enterprises, he said. The official said an army of unemployed was concentrated in major cotton and grain-gowing areas and in the undeveloped centre and west of the country. The hardship of life for the unemployed in villages had forced millions of people to seek their fortunes in the richer cities of the southeastern coast. Major destinations of migrant workers included Guangdong, Fujian, Shandong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. The job seekers come largely from impoverished provinces such as Anhui, Hubei, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Gansu. Mr Zhu warned that the people's livelihood would not be improved and the continuing massive flow of population from villages to cities ''would never be resolved'' if the influx remained in the present state of disorder. The official said chaotic employment in rural areas had resulted in the massive flow of migrant workers throughout the nation, particularly during the Lunar New Year. This imposed a huge burden on railway, coach and port facilities and created enormous pressure on cities, he said. A spate of social problems had occurred as a result, said Mr Zhu, adding the migrant workers themselves also suffered. But he warned: ''Over a considerable period of time, the massive flow of the rural workforce across provinces will intensify further.'' Mr Zhu said the problem of migrant workers pointed out the weakness of the existing employment management system, in particular the backward labour service in villages. In addition to the development of the rural economy to absorb the workforce, he maintained that a set of macro-control measures must be taken to ensure the orderly flow of workers. Mr Zhu said the ministry had recently proposed a long-term plan to co-ordinate the employment of workers in cities and villages. A system covering the registration and exchange of information between labour-exporting and importing regions would be established in three years, he said. Mr Zhu said the experience of the Guangdong authorities in handling this year's massive flow of migrant workers during the Lunar New Year would provide a preliminary and emergency strategy for the future. A network of information flow and employment services would then be introduced between the labour-exporting and importing regions, he said. In the long-run, three regional centres would be established in the southern, eastern and northeastern parts of the country to monitor and regulate the flow of workers, Mr Zhu said. He lamented that the problem would not be solved in a matter of ''five to 10 years'', describing it as a ''cross-century project''.