Opinion / Han Dongping

New Five-Year Plan should lead to sustainable future

By Han Dongping ( Updated: 2015-11-12 09:33

New Five-Year Plan should lead to sustainable future

The Fifth Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, which was held last week, adopted proposals for economic and social development in the 13th Five-year Plan (2016 to 2020).[Photo/Xinhua]

China has just released its 13th Five-Year Plan. It has broad input from the academic and research communities and takes into consideration the challenges Chinese society faces and the lessons of the past. Enacted properly, it will bring China a better future.

For the past three decades, China has witnessed unprecedented economic development across the board. People's living standards have improved significantly. The economic reform and opening up lend China great economic viability. A tremendous amount of wealth has been created. A significant number of people have said goodbye to poverty, and a large number of Chinese people have become millionaires. According to a statistics, China has surpassed the US with its number of billionaires. China now has 594 billionaires.

New Five-Year Plan should lead to sustainable future
Han Dongping

Yet there remain a significant percentage of Chinese people living in poverty. There are still a significant number who do not have access to modern education and medical care facilities. As a socialist country, the government is aware of the danger the increasing gap between rich and poor poses.

China has achieved unprecedented economic growth at unprecedented environmental cost. For that reason, the government seems to tone down the importance of economic growth in its 13th Five-Year Plan. Instead, it stresses the importance of green technology and efficiency of energy use.

Although I was not able to convince the government to develop good public transport instead of private cars back in 1994, I feel vindicated because what I predicted about the consequences of widespread private car ownership has more than materialized now. I hope that China's 13th Five-Year Plan when implemented will redress China's environmental problems and improve air quality in urban areas.

The 13th Five-Year Plan also aims to increase the level of urbanization in the next five years. According to government statistics, China's urbanization rate is 53 percent. Many people see the increased rate as progress. I strongly disagree. I was born and grew up in a Chinese village. I see the environmental value of Chinese village life. In my time, the rural population lived a waste-free life style. That was how Chinese people lived for five thousand years.

The current urban lifestyle is more comfortable and easy, but is not sustainable. Urban population requires resource to be shipped to them, and they produce a tremendous amount of garbage on a daily basis, which is difficult to manage while it is much easier to recycle and reuse waste in the countryside.

I have been living in the US for more than 25 years, and have seen firsthand the environmental consequences of urbanization. I hope China does not fall into the trap of unplanned urbanization in the future. Instead of encouraging more people to move to urban centers, China should help farmers stay put by improving education and medical care in the countryside.

The author is a professor of Warren Wilson College and guest professor of Hebei University.

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