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Cross holds the hope for Henan
By Sun Shangwu (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-15 05:39

It is where the Yellow River has nourished some of the oldest farms on earth and spawned the earliest traces of the Chinese civilization.

It has the largest group of farmers (almost 70 million more than the population of the United Kingdom) in China, yearning for jobs in cities.

It is Henan, a province in the centre of China and a major repository of the nation's rural poverty, workplace hazards, environmental degradation and disease.

Now, according to Governor Li Chengyu, with the nation's increasing industrial might, Henan is set to perform major cardio-vascular surgery on the Chinese heartland by building more cities during the nation's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10).

A cross-shaped city cluster with the capital Zhengzhou at the core and comprising Kaifeng in the east, Luoyang and Jiyuan in the west, Xinxiang and Jiaozuo in the north and Xuchang, Pingdingshan and Luohe in the south, will emerge, Li told China Daily.

Each city will draft development programmes according to ground realities.

For example, Zhengzhou plans to develop itself into a logistics and regional financial centre while Luoyang will focus on raw materials, manufacturing and tourism.

The nine cities are home to 40 per cent of Henan's population and its major businesses with economic output accounting for nearly 60 per cent of the province, or more than 600 billion yuan (US$74.5 billion) last year.

"We hope other cities in the province, and even cities surrounding Henan, will benefit from the city group," Li said, pointing out that they all belong to an integrated system of public infrastructure, high-speed roads in particular.

An inter-city expressway is being built to cut travel time between Zhengzhou and Kaifeng, which are 70 kilometres apart.

Explaining the current state of economic development of Henan, the governor said: "There are many cities in Henan, but we do not have an outstanding city that is able to lead the development of the whole province."

Compared with other provincial capital cities, Zhengzhou lags behind in economic and social development, he said.

When the integration of Zhengzhou and Kaifeng is completed, they are expected to play the leading role in development. The population of Zhengzhou, which is 3.3 million now, is expected to reach 5 million in due course, Li said.

The planned "city group" will boost Henan's urbanization progress, the governor said, and will help local farmers find more industrial jobs.

The urbanization rate of the province the proportion of urban residents among the population stood at 30.7 per cent in 2005, much lower than the nation's average of 43 per cent.

The province plans to increase the rate by 1.5 percentage points each year in the next five years.

"Given the fact the population is nearly 100 million, it means about 1.5 million farmers will become urban residents each year,?said Li Chengyu, noting it would pose a major challenge for the provincial government, especially in creating jobs.

"If people cannot find jobs in cities and towns, the government will face heavy pressure, or even bigger risks in handling the problems caused by unemployment,?he said.

The provincial government will increase the proportion of labour-intensive business and service sectors as well as private start-ups to create more jobs.

Li, 60, was born in Haiyuan city of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, one of the poorest areas in China. He moved from Ningxia to Henan in 1993 as vice-governor and became the governor three years ago. He is known in the Chinese press for his long-standing position urging income increases and social benefits for farmers.

Henan is an important source of migrant workers in China. More than 15 million farmers from the province have moved to other places to seek jobs, remitting 73 billion yuan (US$9.07 billion) each year ?40 per cent of farmers?total income.

"Unreasonably low wage levels and heavy workloads are the two most pressing problems for farmers-turned-workers,?Li said.

For example, a worker earned about 500 yuan (US$62) a month in South China's Guangdong Province 10 years ago. But wages have risen by only 100-200 yuan (US$12-24) since then although the region has chalked up double-digit economic growth.

While he cannot influence salary levels outside his province, Li said a proposed minimum wage for farmers-turned-workers in Henan might have a salutary effect in the rest of the country.

Turning to the household residential permit system, or hukou, which is widely regarded as the major obstacle for farmers moving to cities, Li said such restrictions have almost been lifted in Henan. "If farmers have their own home and a job, they can apply for hukou in cities,?said Li.

But the reality is that many farmers are unwilling to seek urban hukou because they do not want to give up their farmland.

To make life easier for farmers, the province plans to develop itself into an important grain producer for China, an energy, raw material and manufacturing base, and a transportation hub for goods and passengers.

He attributed the increasing investment attraction to the huge market potential, low labour cost, as well as ample supply of land. "Some foreign-funded companies in coastal provinces are not able to find enough workers, and even face power shortages, while these problems do not exist in Henan,?said Li.

(China Daily 03/15/2006 page1)

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