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With Beijing Population Set To Hit 20 Million, Authorities Say 'Stop!'

The capital's population is rising by a half-million every year, mostly migrants from other parts of China. Authorities have responded with a new "population evacuation" policy.

Beijing crowds (Mike Beltzner)


"Beijing welcomes you!" A slogan used during the 2008 Olympic Games in China's capital is about to ring with irony for many, as the city plans to carry out one of its five-year-plan policies to control the rapid growth of the city's population – currently an overwhelming 19.72 million, with 500,000 more coming each year. Half of the people in the city are migrants from other areas of China.

Three measures are to be enforced to activate this so-called "population evacuation" policy, according to the proposal announced last month just before the Chinese New Year: Resident Permit Control, Housing Control, and Industry Control, according to the Beijing-based weekly Economic Observer News.

"Resident Permit" control, which will replace the current "Temporary resident card," will be a new layer of bureaucratic verification on top of the existing ‘Hukou" system to check residence in Beijing.

Housing Control will force industries to provide dormitories or other housing for their workers in the satellite towns outside of Beijing. In addition, stricter regulations will be introduced to enforce higher standards of living conditions for rental houses. This is expected to raise rental costs, and automatically "squeeze out" the working poor class.

Industry Control is the process of getting ‘low-end industries' and their ‘low-end workers' to leave the city. According to the Economic Observer News, in the experimental satellite town of Xunyi developed seven years ago as such city, the government set up eight collection points for recycling garbage. This has almost doubled the collection efficiency and thus reduced the number of sanitation workers required from three 3,000 to just more 800. Enterprises are also given financial incentives to hire local workers instead of migrants, dubbed the Xunyi model.

The government of Hebei Province where Beijing is located devising specific plans to move some 2.8 million people out of Beijing over the next five years, to settle in the three future new towns – Jing East, Jing South and Jing North. Even people who have been living in the traditional quarters of Beijing for centuries are not exempt from Industry Control. Seven hundred thousand of them will be squeezed out.

According to a report on the Liao Wang website, the Beijing West Side Housing Commission is convinced that removing a large section of the population will create better quality living conditions. "But," the report points out, "the inhabitants themselves have not been asked their opinion."

Certain experts think that "these measures are transitional ones necessary to create the conditions for a future market-based solution", according to the Economic Observer. Critics label this policy "wholesale demolition" according to Liao Wang.

The forcible removal of people from their homes has been happening throughout China as local governments push forward with new developments. There have been cases of self-immolation in protest. One man in Zhejiang province who refused to move was recently run over by a truck, with accusations that it was a hit-and-run job on orders of the local mayor.

It used to be the policy of the government to limit Beijing's population to 16.25 million by the year 2010. They also calculated that the maximum population that could be sustained in the city would be 17.5 million. Given that the current population of 19.72 million, a policy which squeezes out two million people will only bring the population down to this maximum limit figure.

Transport, employment, health and educational facilities are all seriously overstretched. Water too is in very limited supply, with each Beijing resident having only 210 cubic meters per year at his disposal, about a tenth of the national average.

Yet the new population enforcement policy is not bad news for all. Some migrant workers who are already homeowners may be able to obtain the Resident Permit which finally allows them full access for their children's education, social protection, medical facilities, car purchase and other services they have often been shut off from.

"The very difficulty is how to actually draw up the implementation methods of Resident Permit, because the balance has to be found between population control and rights of citizens so that the population is controlled while the city still guarantees its attractiveness', said Professor So-Long Mao of Renmin University.

Laura Lin


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