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China focuses on easing rural poverty
Updated: 2005-10-19 11:34

China has issued an economic plan that calls for developing the poor countryside in an effort to narrow the growing gap between rich and poor, the Chinese media said Wednesday.

The five-year plan was approved at an annual leadership meeting that ended last week but was not released to the public until this week.

It pledges to maintain "fast and stable growth" and to carry out more reforms of China's banks and financial industries and development of oil and gas resources to meet surging energy needs, the government's Xinhua News Agency and other media reported.

But the plan's focus is rural development, reflecting official alarm at the gap in incomes between eastern cities that have boomed during China's 25-year-old economic reforms and the poor countryside, home to 800 million people.

Enduring rural poverty and anger at corruption, and the seizure of farmland for development in areas where some families get by on only a few hundred dollars a year could be factors causing potential social instability, and in some areas, have sparked protests.

The plan "stresses the need to accelerate rural reform in a bid to narrow the yawning gap between the rural and urban areas and promote social harmony," Xinhua said.

The plan, which would be finalized at the meeting of the National People's Congress next spring, promises to overhaul the rural tax system, invest more in agriculture and experiment with methods of letting farmers control their land, the reports said.

Capitalist-style economic reforms have undercut the importance of such Five-Year plans, but they are still closely watched as indicators of the ruling party's priorities.

The plan echoes long-term party objectives put in place even before President Hu Jintao took office in 2003.

In a report in September, a government think tank said half of all income in China goes to the top one-fifth of the population, while the bottom one-fifth receives just 4.7 percent.

China has for years posted the highest economic growth rates of any major country. The government said last week that the economy grew by 9.4 percent in the first nine months of this year, and forecast growth for the full year at 9.2 percent.

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