China economy

China’s migrant workers must be given equal rights if rapid urbanisation is to succeed

Politburo’s call for accelerating the process of granting migrant workers full urban residency status is a welcome step in right direction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 3:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 3:29am

Equal rights for migrant workers may be the poster issue of China’s urbanisation. But the country’s leaders are now focusing on serious social, economic and environmental consequences of poor management of the breakneck pace of urban development.

This has resulted in many cities with overcrowded and often unsafe living and working conditions, congested traffic, eye-watering pollution and degradation of land and water resources. Amid a slowing economy, these problems must be addressed if urbanisation is to be an effective engine of growth in the drive to build a comprehensive, well-off society by 2020.

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Until this week, the Communist Party had not held an urban work conference since 1978, when only 18 per cent of mainlanders lived in towns and cities. The figure is now 55 per cent, or 750 million people, although fewer than 40 per cent are officially recognised as urban residents with full access to pension and education coverage.

It is not surprising that the latest meeting of top cadres headed by President Xi Jinping (習近平 ) pledged to make cities better and saferby pushing forward “new urbanisation” centred on people to remedy “urban diseases”.

Despite the pace of urbanisation, China has room for much more when compared with developed economies. With its potential for sustaining growth, including absorption of wasteful overcapacity, the case for urbanisation remains strong. But the rise of super cities with populations of tens of millions raises a new set of problems, including pressure on resources and environmental stress.

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An obvious example is Beijing, population 21 million compared with 8.5 million in 1978, where the authorities are moving some facilities out of the city centre. There is an argument for building more small to medium-sized cities where it is easier to provide the conditions for a better, safer life. To this end the Politburo’s call for accelerating the process of granting migrant workers full urban residency status is welcome, since it will make it easier for them to settle and contribute to growth as urban consumers.