Mayors have become obstacles to hukou reform

By Yu Jincui Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-22 0:25:04

Nearly all the mayors interviewed by a national urbanization research team expressed reservations over reforming the hukou (household registration) system, reported the Economy and Nation Weekly Monday. The research team, made up of 11 governmental agencies such as the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Finance, interviewed city leaders from eight provinces between April and May.

According to the report, although China has been promoting hukou reform since 2001, the related policies and guidelines have not been properly implemented by local governments. One of the reasons is that the local governments themselves are passive in promoting the reform.

This is quite an embarrassing situation for hukou reform. Those key players who ought to be the driving force of reform are instead acting as obstacles. Hukou reform is one of the toughest challenges facing China. Hukou is not just a population management concept, but is also closely related to social welfare such as education and medical insurance.

Reforming the hukou system means breaking up the barriers that block the migrant population from enjoying equal benefits provided by cities. But for local governments, expanding the coverage of social welfare means they will have to face great financial pressure. This clarifies why most mayors are unwilling to promote the reform.

In the report by the Economy and Nation Weekly, over 51 percent of the Chinese population live in cities, but only 35 percent of them have an urban hukou. That means 65 percent of those living in cities cannot enjoy the same benefits as the citizens of the city where they live. Li Tie, an official from the NDRC, said in June when attending the 2012 APEC China CEO Forum that nearly 220 million migrant workers are excluded from public services provided by the government nationwide.

Hukou blocks migrant populations from enjoying equal rights in cities. If the cities only enjoy these people's services and contributions but don't give them equal benefits, they will eventually pay a price.

The massive protests in Zengcheng, Guangzhou last June are an example. Migrant workers from Sichuan Province felt treated with prejudice and sought to vent their anger through protests. It is undesirable for city officials to choose to promote hukou reform only when they are confronted with such a crisis.

Hukou reform is designed to create more fairness within society. Other reforms, such as education and medical insurance reform, should also be conducted accordingly to alleviate the pressure. Doing so may prompt mayors to advance hukou reform.

Posted in: Observer

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