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Rural Potential Tapped for Economic Development

The deliberations on rural development at the third Plenary Session of the 17th Communist Party of China Central Committee are momentous.

Much of the limelight has been on breakthroughs in the contract-based household management system, and rural finance, are revolutionary moves in their own right.

Yet they, along with more of what we will see in the coming days when the entire policy package is revealed, appear less than the sum of the parts of an organic whole. This is the first time in 30 years that the CPC has come up with a truly comprehensive approach to rural progress in which we see a good chance of success.

Thirty years ago, dividing farmland into small patches and contracting them to individual households worked wonders. Now, much more needs to be done and mere land reform is no longer a cure-all.

We have witnessed numerous attempts to transform the rural economic scenario, including abolition of the agricultural tax in 2006. Yet nothing has substantially changed the reality of the country's vast countryside playing second fiddle to the soaring urban economy. When the countryside is left behind, there is no way to narrow the rural-urban gap.

The ratio between per capita incomes of urban and rural residents has reached 3.33:1. It is not that the government was not aware of it, or that it has not worked hard. All sorts of prescriptions have been written to raise farmers' incomes but still we see little difference. The reason is not that complex -- never before has rural development been deliberated the way it was in the past four days.

When much of the rest of the world is struggling with a crippling financial crisis and the fear of a protracted recession, this country sees an imperative need to tap domestic consumer demand. There has been much talk about the spending potential in the countryside but it has remained only potential.

The just concluded CPC meeting inspires hope because it aims to translate potential into actual buying power.

With the specific goal of doubling farmers' 2008 per capita income by 2020, the picture of the "new countryside" on the CPC's drawing board looks more appealing than ever.

(China Daily October 13, 2008)

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