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Chinese gov't to spend more on countryside
(Associated Press )
Updated: 2006-02-22 11:20

A Chinese government plan issued Tuesday promises to spend more on schools, health care and aid for farmers in the poor countryside.

Chinese gov't to spend more on countryside
Farmers work in a green house in Liaocheng, East China's Shandong Province February 18, 2006. [newsphoto]

The document, released by the State Council, is the first in a series setting out priorities for 2006. It comes as Beijing tries to assure rural China, home to 800 million people, that it is making progress in spreading prosperity to farmers, poor workers and others left behind by the nation's 26-year economic boom.

The plan "makes it clear that China is tilting fiscal investment to agriculture and farmers, and shifting the focus of infrastructure construction from cities to countryside," the Xinhua News Agency said in announcing the plan.

The effort reflects long-term party goals, in place even before President Hu Jintao took office in 2003, that call for shifting focus from China's booming eastern cities to the vast countryside.

Economic reforms begun in 1979 have helped millions of Chinese lift themselves out of poverty. But many more have seen little change and are struggling with stagnant incomes. Many families in the countryside get by on only a few hundred dollars a year.

China's economy is expected to extend its streak of sizzling growth this year, expanding by more than 9 percent. But a sobering report in September by an official think tank warned that half of all income goes to the top one-fifth of the population, while the bottom one-fifth gets just 4.7 percent.

The plan announced Tuesday is meant to put into effect a five-year economic development blueprint approved in October by the central government. That document called for more "social fairness" and said Chinese leaders want to "narrow the yawning gap between the rural and urban areas and promote social harmony."

The latest plan was billed as an effort to "construct a `new socialist countryside.'"

It promises the equivalent of at least $1.86 billion in farm subsidies, subsidized medical care and other aid, according to Xinhua and China Central Television. They said school fees would be eliminated this year in China's poor west and in other rural areas in 2007.

The reports did not give a total figure for spending. The national budget is due to be issued during the annual session of parliament, which begins March 5.

"With these favorable policies, Chinese farmers are not far from enjoying a new life of tax-free farming, free education and cheap medication," said Ma Xiaohe, an agricultural expert with the Cabinet's State Development and Reform Commission, according to Xinhua.

Last year, the government eliminated the country's tax on farm production.

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