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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: January 27, 2011 NO. 5 FEBRUARY 3, 2011
Mapping Out a Future
Local governments pledge to improve living standards for residents

PEOPLE'S CONCERNS: Staff categorize proposals for curbing traffic congestion submitted by members of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference during their full session in January (LI WEN)

China achieved rapid GDP growth in 2010, but it was mainly driven by investment, instead of internal forces or domestic demand, said He Keng, Vice Chairman of the Financial and Economic Affairs Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top lawmaking body.

Speaking at an annual economic forum organized by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges on January 15, He warned local authorities against making GDP growth their top priority when drawing up development plans for the next five years.

"Efforts must be made to shift priority from achieving fast GDP growth to raising people's living standards to boost domestic demand," he said.

He's suggestions are consistent with the themes of annual full sessions of provincial-level legislatures and political advisory bodies held last month. These meetings unexceptionally put emphasis on livelihood and economic restructuring.

Focusing on livelihoods

Many local governments have pledged to improve their public's living standards, instead of only focusing on GDP figures in their government work reports to sessions of local people's congresses.

They also vowed to adjust income distribution for urban and rural residents, seeking to tackle disparities in wealth.

Local governments' targets showed that concrete actions and increased efforts would be taken to narrow income gaps, which had witnessed unceasing expansion amid the country's economic boom, Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told Xinhua News Agency.

Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong said in his work report that the city would target an 8-percent per-annum GDP growth in the 2011-15 period, one percentage point lower than the target for the previous five-year period.

Beijing's economic growth will go, hand in hand, with the improved livelihood of the people, Guo said. He added the city will also achieve an 8-percent annual increase in income for urban and rural residents, 2 percentage points higher than the past five years.

In the 2006-10 period, Beijing reported an average annual GDP growth of 11 percent.

The city's consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, hovered at 3 percent in 2010.

The city government would strive to rein in soaring prices, provide more affordable housing and ease traffic congestion, Guo said.

"This year we are under heavy pressure to stabilize housing and other retail prices while optimizing the investment structure now that a comparatively high proportion of investment goes into the real estate sector," Guo said.

He said the city government would take strict measures to regulate the real estate market, ensure stable and orderly land supply, and curb speculative investment, to keep housing prices from increasing further.

This year, Guo said, the city government planed to build more affordable housing for low-income earners. "We will build or buy 200,000 affordable apartments this year and, hopefully, half of them will be ready for people to move in by the end of the year," said Guo.

Regarding Beijing's traffic woes, Guo said easing congestion remained a pressing task in the city with 20 million people and 4.8 million vehicles. Still, he vowed to effectively curb congestion within five years.

The city will continue to boost public transportation, ensuring 50 percent of in-city trips are done through taxis or public transit, according to Guo's report.

In what Chinese Internet users describe as "the toughest congestion-tackling measures in history," Beijing is limiting this year's issuance of new car license plates to 240,000, one third the number in 2010.

Starting January 1, car buyers in Beijing had to apply and then draw lots before getting a license plate.

In the meantime, the city government has vowed to keep the fleet of public cars, mainly vehicles owned by government agencies, from expanding further.

Shanghai also set the target for GDP growth at 8 percent, with the increase of per-capita disposable income of urban residents keeping pace with that of economic growth.

With coffers fed by 10-percent GDP growth last year, Shanghai would increase local retirement pensions, minimum wages and social welfare, while narrowing wealth gaps, Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said when delivering a government work report on January 16.

He said wage increases and social assistance to the vulnerable will be pegged to price hikes.

The city would also prepare a trial property tax this year to curb real estate speculation while providing affordable housing for residents, Han said.

Chongqing in southwest China is the country's first provincial-level region to reveal its rating of the Gini coefficient, which is the internationally recognized wealth distribution index.

The local government made the pledge to reduce the index from the current 0.42 to 0.35 in the coming five years in its work report. The Gini coefficient critical threshold is 0.4 percent.

According to a World Bank report, the Gini coefficient for China surged to 0.47 in 2009, pointing to an unequal distribution of income that could lead to social unrest.

Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan said Chongqing would further reform initial income distribution and redistribution.

The city also planned to impose a property tax on high-end housing, Huang said.

It's reported that the city will likely tax all villas as well as apartments that have a floor area of more than 144 square meters and are priced 2 to 2.5 times above the average.

In the next five years, Chongqing will enhance the role of taxes in regulating income distribution, and gradually improve the proportion that goes to wages and salaries, the major source for China's middle- and low-income families, in the primary distribution of national income, said Huang.

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