'Time ripe for welfare reform'

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-21 08:30

China's high savings rate and sound public finances offer the right conditions for the authorities to proceed with social security and healthcare system reforms, People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said.

Speaking to the Xinhua News Agency in Sydney, where he was attending a Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers, the head of China's central bank said the nation's social security system should include all members of society.

Social security fund reform should involve government support, individual accounts and commercial insurance, Xinhua quoted Zhou as saying.

People with adequate savings should be encouraged to invest in personal pension and medical insurance schemes, Zhou said, stressing that the government should offer more support to poorer citizens.

The central bank governor said that pension funds, which are currently mainly held by banks, should be invested in capital markets to increase their value and generate higher returns.

The government is currently working on a plan to transfer 10 per cent of any domestic shares in listed State-owned companies to the national pension fund, the National Council for Social Security Fund.

The council, which had total assets of 230 billion yuan (US$29 billion) at the end of August, currently invests mainly in bonds and bank deposits and is planning to start overseas investment in the near future.

Zhou said the current healthy state of the nation's finances also offered good opportunities for further steps to be taken in foreign exchange rate reform.

He added that the nation's financial sector was now in a much stronger position than it was three or four years ago, noting that it was now better equipped to cope with interest rate reform and a more flexible yuan.

In another development, the People's Bank of China announced yesterday it had opened a representative office for the South Pacific in Sydney.

The office will improve communications with monetary authorities in the region and promote financial co-operation, the central bank said.

(China Daily 11/21/2006 page9)

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