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Cover Story Series> Business
UPDATED: February 4, 2013 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 7, 2013
A New Starting Point

At a recent press conference in Beijing, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China's highest authoritative agency in charge of collecting and analyzing data concerning national economic and social development, disclosed for the first time since 2000 the country's Gini coefficient between 2003 and 2012. Also known as the Gini index, the figure is commonly used to measure the disparity of wealth among a country's citizens.

The NBS statistics show that the Gini coefficient averaged 0.482 during the past decade, hitting 0.491 at its highest point in 2008 and last year's figure standing at 0.474, higher than the global average of 0.44 published by the World Bank for 2010, and well above the warning threshold of 0.4 set by the UN. The finding serves as yet another confirmation that income inequality is on the rise in the country.

Admittedly, along with China's booming economic development, widening wealth disparities have emerged between different regions and industries, as well as among various groups of the social stratum. The NBS data suggest that the urban income level is generally three times higher than that of rural areas, while the gap between individual citizens in the highest paid positions and their lowest earning counterparts shows another stark difference, with as much as four times greater wealth. Such a scenario will not only affect the overall healthy development of the nation, but also deviates from a "fundamental principle of socialism with Chinese characteristics" as laid down at the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress last November—the pursuit of common prosperity for all Chinese.

The NBS announcement of the disheartening Gini coefficient does offer one piece of good news for the country of over 1.3 billion people: At the very least, it has once again sounded the alarm about the widening wealth divide in China, while demonstrating that the ruling CPC is paying appropriate attention to this critical issue. More importantly, the publicized data may be taken as a new starting point for the long overdue reform of a nationwide income distribution system, as they will form the basis of consensus and help bring out the reform scheme as soon as possible.

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