Focus on rural-urban income disparities
BEIJING: "More than 5,000 political representatives from every corner of China descended on Beijing this week for the start of the country's most important annual political exercise — the meetings of its two most powerful political bodies.".
On Wednesday, the 2,252-member Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body comprising different political groups besides the ruling Communist Party, began its annual session reviewing the government's work in the past year. The more powerful National People's Congress (NPC), a 2,981-member legislative body which approves and passes many of the major laws, begins its session on Friday.
The liang hui or “two sessions”, as they are commonly referred to in China, are an annual two-week-long ritual that brings together political representatives from all of China's 33 provinces and special administrative regions and 55 minority groups.
In theory, their role is to review the progress of different government departments and decide policies for the year ahead. But in practice, the mandate and space the two bodies actually have to debate and review government policies is somewhat unclear and has itself become a subject of much debate among Chinese scholars.
Critics say the meetings are no more than an over-elaborate ritual to rubber-stamp government policies already approved by the ruling Communist Party. Most analysts in Beijing say this is usually the case for the less powerful CPPCC, where new policy decisions are rarely taken. Its members this week were accused by China's ‘netizens' of not doing much more than sitting in “smilence” — smiling at policies and keeping silent during debates — a term that has spread like wildfire on Chinese blogs this week.
However, NPC meetings in recent years have begun to belie this notion; emerging as a forum for debating, reviewing and opposing controversial government policies.
This year, the meetings have drawn particular attention with a heated public debate on the gap between urban and rural China, which is at its widest since economic reforms were launched three decades ago. An urban resident in China now earns 3.3 times more than a rural one.
In the past week, a number of scholars and domestic media have called on the NPC to adopt a law to ease government restrictions on migration — an issue expected to be at the centre of discussions the next two weeks. Rural migrants who move to cities to find work are denied access to healthcare and social services under a five-decade-old household registration or hukou system, which scholars say has exacerbated income disparities.
In January, the government hinted it may be willing to ease the restrictions by allowing rural hukou-holders access to social welfare in select tier-two cities. But the government has come under increasing pressure to do more to dismantle the system.
“The government needs to do more to improve living standards in coastal areas, rather than stop the process of migration from the inland areas,” Lu Ming, a scholar at Shanghai's Fudan University who has been calling for reforms, told The Hindu. “The key point is to not stop the process of allowing people to increase their income and quality of life, and to give them the choice to move freely.”
This week, in an unprecedented move, 13 newspapers published a common editorial strongly criticising government restrictions on migration.
“We believe in people born to be free and people possessing the right to migrate freely!” the editorial read. It was removed from the websites of some of the newspapers by Wednesday, when the CPPCC session began.