'Harmonious society' the right choice
Updated: 2006-10-10 20:49

Experts have backed the decision by China's Communist Party (CPC) to prioritize the creation of a harmonious society at its ongoing Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee.

"This is a major strategic move taken by the party to build a fair and just society and attain sustainable social and economic development," said Wu Zhongmin, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee.

It is widely expected that the party's leadership will take major decisions at the meeting on the building of a harmonious society, including measures to promote social justice and reduce the wealth gap.

Measures are also expected to be announced to repair damage caused by the reforms of health services, education and social security.

China's recent reforms in health and education have been widely considered failures as they have resulted in soaring prices beyond the reach of medium and lower-income groups.

"Soaring prices of medical services, housing and education, combined with an inadequate social security network and rising unemployment among university graduates, are making people increasingly anxious about their futures," he said.

Khalid Malik, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program in China, said China has "largely solved, in a remarkably short period of time, the first set of challenges of economic development; eliminating severe hunger, homelessness and outright deprivation."

He said it is only right that China should now address a new set of challenges, correcting the imbalances that have arisen from rapid economic growth.

China's economy has grown at an average rate of 10 percent over the last two decades since it started its reform and opening policy.

But Wu said an equally striking fact is that China has in the same period turned from one of the most egalitarian countries in the world to a nation with one of the biggest wealth gaps.

In 2005, the average income of China's urban residents was 3.23 times that of rural residents. But the actual wealth gap is much bigger when the difference in public services and social security is taken into account.

Tang Min, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank Resident Mission in China, warned that further widening of the wealth gap may reduce the public's support for the party's reform and opening policy, and may even lead to social turmoil.

Wu noted that the Chinese government has already taken measures to reduce the wealth gap over the last few years. Measures include the cancellation of agricultural tax collected from farmers, provision of subsidies to grain producers, and increasing the minimum wage to benefit millions of migrant workers.

The government is also considering a major overhaul of the country's wage structure. According to estimates by Yang Yiyong, deputy head of the institute of economics under the National Development and Reform Commission, the overhaul will benefit 120 million people mainly from medium and low income groups.