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Beijing population issues on the agenda
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-08 08:56

An open discussion between Beijing residents and the city's policy makers on Saturday again thrust the thorny issue of how to deal with the city's burgeoning population into the public limelight.

Around 40 representatives from various walks of life aired their opinions and suggestions on the issue during the four-hour discussions with senior officials with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform, which is in charge of the drafting of the city's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

It is the first time that the city's policy makers have listened directly to public opinion on critical issues whilst drawing up the plan, a fundamental document that will guide the city's economic and social development over the next five years.

Some of the representatives said that the municipal government should set up a strict "access system" to slow down the influx of labourers from outside the city. Some suggested that the city should encourage some Beijing residents to move out. Others held that it was not wise to divide people into "natives" and "non-natives," and proposed that the city's planning and management should be improved in order to upgrade the quality of its residents.

The capital now has 15 million residents, 4 million of whom are outsiders without permanent residence registration in the city.

Beijing's rapidly expanding population has long been blamed for the city's increasingly serious social problems, such as unemployment, traffic jams, environmental pollution, crime and energy starvation.

According to long-term city planning, Beijing will intentionally slow down its population growth to an annual rate of 1.4 per cent, down from the current 2.5 per cent, in order to make the city a better place to live in. That is, by 2020, Beijing will limit its population to about 18 million.

To meet the goal, earlier this year, a Beijing policy adviser proposed that the municipal government should heighten the threshold for outsiders to move into the capital.

The proposal attracted an overwhelming response at the time and stirred a nationwide debate on how to deal with labour mobility and solve the related problems.

During the discussion on Saturday, a group of representatives put forward varying suggestions on how to stem the tide of the migrant inflow, but the others expressed their concerns about the discriminatory connotations within the proposals.

The group advocating an admittance system suggested that the municipal government should increase living expenses, clear up slums where migrants live, organize better shelters with higher rents, and raise the educational requirements for job applicants .

However, the objectors said simply setting man-made obstacles to prevent free labour flow may not only impair the city's long-term development but would also be discriminatory.

It was also proposed that if the municipal government wants to control the influx of migrants, it needs to apply market rules, such as adjusting the structure of the labour force in demand. With a clear orientation towards development, the city could modify its industrial structure and co-operate with neighbouring Tianjin Municipality and Hebei Province.

Moreover, this group said the municipal government should pay more attention to services for the non-natives and give them opportunities to have a say in how they themselves are managed.

Other representatives proffered suggestions on how to encourage Beijing residents to move out of the city.

For instance, one representative said that the municipal government should set up special communities designed for the elderly in neighbouring areas, preferably in less populated counties with fine scenery and a mild climate.

Beijing now has 2 million people, or one-eighth of its population, aged over 60. This group is estimated to take up one-third of the city's population by 2025.

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