Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

9 Mar, 2013

Xinhua Insight: Doubling income is easy, narrowing regional gap is anything but

by Xinhua writers Cheng Yunjie and Zhang Yao

BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) — Legislators attending an ongoing annual legislative session are discussing one of China’s greatest challenges: narrowing the country’s wealth gap.

In the eyes of legislators from underdeveloped regions, doubling the average income is easy, but narrowing the yawning wealth disparity is anything but.

Xia Qingfeng, mayor of the city of Tongren in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, believes his province is the weakest link in China’s drive to build a moderately prosperous society by 2020.

Home to one-ninth of China’s 99-million-strong poor population, Guizhou posted an aggregate GDP of 680.2 billion yuan in 2012, the lowest among all 31 provincial-level regions.

The province’s urban residents earned 16,495 yuan in per capita annual income in 2011, while rural residents earned just 4,145 in per capita net income that year.

Chinese urban residents earned 24,565 yuan in annual per capita income in 2012, while rural residents earned 7,917 yuan in per capita net income, official statistics show.

“Only after Guizhou fulfills its dream of getting rid of poverty, can China achieve its dream of rejuvenation,” said Xia.

Wang Chang, director of the Industry and Information Bureau of north China’s Hebei Province and deputy to the NPC, urged the government to make all-out efforts to eliminate the wealth gap.

In Hebei’s city of Baoding, there are 1.38 million people struggling to make ends meet in nine poverty-stricken counties. The city’s low-income households earned just 4,742 yuan in per capita income in 2011. In Beijing, the figure was 8,880 yuan.

When China started its economic reform and opening-up drive in 1978, the per capita income for urban residents stood just at 343 yuan.

Letting some people get rich first and then help others achieve common prosperity has been regarded as a viable strategy for China to pull people out of poverty.

However, when China released its first official rich-poor index since 2000 in mid-January, it painted a far-from-rosy picture of what the country needs to do to bridge the wealth gap.

Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the country’s Gini coefficient reached 0.474 in 2012, higher than the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations.

The index has retreated gradually since peaking at 0.491 in 2008, dropping to 0.49 in 2009, 0.481 in 2010 and 0.477 in 2011, according to NBS chief Ma Jiantang.

However, Du Ying, deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission, said that China’s regional wealth disparity has been large for some time.

In 2000, the average per capita GDP for the east China coast was 7,200 yuan more than that of the western interior. Last year, Du said, the spread broadened to 26,000 yuan.

Meaningful Change

At its 18th National Congress held in mid-November, the Communist Party of China (CPC) announced plans to double the 2010 GDP and per capita income for both urban and rural residents by 2020.

As there are only eight years left to meet the target, legislators from undeveloped regions are competing to make poverty elimination proposals to the State Council, or China’s cabinet.

Zhong Mian, vice governor of southwest China’s Sichuan Province cautioned against using averages as a gauge to evaluate the improvement of people’s living standards. “A rise in average income does not necessarily mean a meaningful life-of-quality improvement in underdeveloped regions,” said Zhong.

He urged the State Council to grant more transfer payments to undeveloped regions and narrow regional disparities related to public utilities and services.

Ma Yufeng, mayor of Baoding, said he doesn’t think meeting the 2020 target is a bridge too far to cross. “Using averages as a measurement, we see no significant problem in meeting the income-doubling goal. The real challenge for us comes from the poverty-stricken population. Helping the needy is a matter of fairness and justice,” said the NPC deputy.

“Monolithic macro-management policies that don’t take regional disparity into account will put poverty-stricken regions at a disadvantage,” said Wang Hailin, director of the Sichuan Provincial Economic and Information Commission and a deputy to the NPC.

“The State Council must figure out tailor-made incentives to boost the development of undeveloped regions,” Wang said. In early February, the State Council issued a guideline on income redistribution reform, although the details of its implementation have yet to be announced.

Describing regional disparity as an issue that is essential to the overall health and efficiency of China’s economy, Du said helping undeveloped interior regions cultivate advantageous industries will help narrow the gap.

“A more effective way is to facilitate the smooth flow of production factors between the interior and the east coast for more coordinated development,” said Du.

(Zhou Erjie, Li Yunlu, Ren Qinqin, Wang Chengcheng and Wang Kun also contributed to this story.)