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Beijing's Broken Policy Of Population Control

Beijing officials plan to raise public transportation costs to “let prices play a role in population regulation”
Beijing officials plan to raise public transportation costs to “let prices play a role in population regulation”
Lan Fang

BEIJING — China's central government has imposed new requirements to severely limit the population in the country's "mega-cities." In the booming capital, whose population has topped 20 million, the focus has been on using economic regulations to stem the rising number of inhabitants.

“Controlling the population by controlling business categories” is one of the key new policies, and includes relocating outside the city limits sectors such as the production of furniture, building materials, garment and small commodity wholesaling.

Another measure that will affect even more people is “controlling the population by controlling housing.” A series of campaigns to crack down on illegal group renting, as well as illegal suburban house construction, will be intensified.

Beijing officials also plan to raise public transportation costs, such as subway and bus fares, as well as other price hikes to local services such as water and electricity. The stated goal is to “let prices play a role in population regulation” by raising living costs, and “squeezing out a part of the floating population.”

Meanwhile the Beijing government has once again modified its target of population control and set a goal of maintaining the capital’s permanent population at around 21.8 million by 2015. This means that over the next two years the city’s residential population is not to grow by more than 650,000 persons.

So, can this series of measures actually work? And more broadly, is it the role of the government to regulate population so closely?

First things first

Lu Jiehua, a professor of sociology at Peking University, reckons that Beijing’s population and shortage of resources are indeed acute, and it is commonly acknowledged that its population has to be controlled. However, the authority has to be clear about the limits of its own role.

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Beijing's goal: not more than 21.8 million by 2015 — Photo: See ming-Lee

In Lu’s view, the government ought to first determine its economic and industrial policy before taking aim at population control — not the other way around. “The authority has to decide the industrial layout, and let the market determine the jobs available. And then individuals will decide whether they are to stay in Beijing or leave.”

Lu also notes that in its 2004 City Plan, Beijing positioned itself as “China’s capital city, a world city, a famous cultural city and a city comfortable for living.” It is neither a financial center, nor an economic center. Thus, Beijing should effectively move out of the many economic functions it currently hosts.

Finally, the government ought to acknowledge that population is not purely a burden. “For a city to develop, to be dynamic and to have vitality, it needs people," Lu says. "If all Beijing cares about is how to reduce its population, and then everybody leaves — high-end and low-end workers alike — how is it going to achieve any economic development?”

Lu notes that even while the Beijing government talks about using economic incentives to control the population, it has mostly relied on strict limits to housing and residency permits in an attempt to push out temporary migrant workers.

“A city’s needs are pluralistic,” Lu notes, “even the so-called high-end population needs services from middle and low-end laborers while the latter also require the basic needs of shelter and food for themselves."

And Lu worries that this new round of population control will again have the greatest impact on low-income groups. Meanwhile, the living costs for all in Beijing — from the migrant population to the labor burdens of business are all going to go up.

“This goes against the spirit of inclusiveness that Beijing claims to have.”

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