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2006 NPC session to zoom in on rural issues
Updated: 2006-03-01 16:25

China's 2006 legislative session that begins Sunday will focus once again on measures to help farmers raise their living standards and create social stability, political analysts say.

The National People's Congress will discuss a substantive model to follow up calls for creating "socialist new villages," scholars and nongovernmental organizations predict.

The NPC, a 2,988-member body has not published an agenda for its session that is expected to last 10 days to two weeks, but official media hint that farm issues are top priority.

No new laws or policy directives are expected.

An advisory body, the China People's Political Consultative Conference, meets from Friday.

Congress deputies will likely discuss ways to guarantee rural residents better healthcare, education and clean water, said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong.

Lawrence Ho, a Phoenix TV political commentator in Hong Kong, said the government will probably take some budgetary and management authority away from local officials.

"Local governments aren't going to be satisfied," he said. They think their interests are going to be affected."

The countryside is the home to 800 million to 900 million people. 

Farmers are upset because rural income lags behind city income, but local governments in many parts of China have taken away farmland for development while offering little compensation or social welfare.

"The farmer issue is a huge issue. It's very serious," said Yu Meisun, a political writer in Beijing. "Government-society conflicts are getting more severe. This has to be reflected back to the NPC."

Countryside reconstruction has been a top government issue since 2002. Last year, Premier Wen Jiabao said rural issues headlined China's work agenda. Contenting the farmers also dovetails with the government's mission of narrowing a widening income gap and creating a "harmonious society."

Party leaders also hope to organize peasants so they can help themselves, according to the James Yen Rural Reconstruction Institute, a school in Hebei Province near Beijing. The provincial government-supported institute trains farmers to rebuild villages.

Legislators may consider giving rural people more rights in big cities, where an estimated 200 million do blue-collar work to feed their families in the countryside, said Robin Munro, research director with China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong.

The World Bank estimates another 200 million Chinese people will move to the job-rich cities such as Beijing and Shanghai over the next 15 years. But regulations do not always give migrant workers rights to housing and education.

Edward Friedman, political science professor with the University of Wisconsin in the United States, said the central government does not want to "take on" local governments to push rural reforms.

Most farmers say they do not follow national issues but hope for more central government help. Farmers interviewed last month in the northern China mountain city of Chengde said they wanted more chances to earn money in their village of 4,000 people because they can only break even with corn, crops and sheep herding.

"Our hope is that we'll be allowed to go into the market to sell stuff as we like," said villager Zheng Ruiping, 50, who plants sweet potatoes on six acres and breaks even with about 6,000 yuan ($746) per year. Sales permits are too hard to get now, Zheng said.

NPC delegates are also expected to discuss the perennial issues of energy conservation and environmental preservation in line with the fast-growing economy, observers say.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported in December that the session would include the usual approval of the annual government work report, a judiciary report, the budget and the next five-year economic and social development plan.

NPC meetings generally include small-group sessions on provincial issues and ministry press conferences.

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