BEIJING - In a move to reduce a burgeoning population, the Beijing People's Congress has advocated a restriction of low-wage workers in the capital through closures of small businesses.
The report, released by the municipal legislature during its recent session that ended on July 30, recommended population control measures be part of the city's 2011-15 development plan, whereby the adjustment of industries be accompanied by the introduction of more skilled workers during a reduction in the overall demand for laborers.
Beijing's population reached 19.72 million by the end of 2009. Among this figure, 7.26 million people were migrant workers who had been living in the city for more than half a year, official figures show.
If unregistered migrant workers and people on short visits to the capital are also taken into consideration, the floating population in Beijing could have exceeded 10 million, the municipal officials said in the report.
Du Peng, an expert with the population research institute at Renmin University of China, said that, to set a population control target is necessary and that the local legislature's suggestion for lowering the number of low-end laborers is feasible.
"To introduce strict management over small businesses such as floating stalls and junkyards will definitely hurt businesses," Du said. "If they cannot make a living in the capital city, they might go back to their hometown or shift to other cities."
Other cities' experiences in population control should also be taken into account, according to officials.
For example, "Shanghai has been doing very well in regulating street vendors", said Du. "You can hardly see any illegal stalls in the street. This not only helps reduce the number of low-wage laborers, but also makes the city tidy and clean."
But Qiao Xiaochun, a population expert with Peking University, said such a policy might have limited effect on population control.
"The existence of the massive small businesses, which absorb many migrant workers in the capital city, tells that there is a great demand for them. They also provide inexpensive services to the public," he said.
"To shut them down forcefully is not the proper way, since it may drive up people's living costs," added Qiao, "and this violates the rule of the market economy."
Qiao suggested a better way to control the population.
"We may introduce a system through which inhabitants who contribute more to Beijing, or who pay more in taxes, could be granted more privileges in the capital," he said.
The cost of living, such as for housing and education, is quite high in Beijing. Those unable to endure the pressure would gradually leave, he said.
The Beijing legislatures' suggestion follows a pilot program in the capital's Shunyi district.
The district began shutting down small junkyards beginning in early 2008, and had brought their numbers down by 60 percent by 2009.
However, people running the business, all considered "low-wage" laborers, have yet to leave the district.
Huo Yuan, who was forbidden to collect recyclable wastes such as empty bottles and papers in downtown Shunyi, has been forced to relocate three kilometers away.
"This could be my last chance," said Huo, lamenting the state of his business, according to the Beijing News.
"I could not leave here. What could I do if I go back to my hometown in Henan?" Huo asked. "All I have there are my elderly parents and children. I have no land to grow anything."
(China Daily 08/04/2010 page5)