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10 Mln Migrants Get Set for City, Farmland Swap

After relocating 1 million residents in the Three Gorges area, Chongqing is set to urbanize some 10 million rural migrants over the next decade.

The local government will invest 4 trillion yuan creating more job opportunities and boost urban infrastructure.

The central government selected Chongqing, set to celebrate its 10th municipal anniversary on June 18, and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, as "pilot reform cities".

The pilot programs target coordinated rural and urban development through reforms in all sectors.

China has witnessed rapid economic growth since it launched its reform and opening up policies in 1978, but at the same time created a widening income gap between rural and urban areas.

As the only municipality in China's hinterland, Chongqing has a large city proper and an even larger countryside. Among its 32 million population, over 20 million live in the rural areas. In Chongqing, the average annual income of an urban resident is 10 times that of a farmer in a remote rural area. Every year, some half million farmers will travel to the city in pursuit of a better life.

"In 10 years, about 10 million farmers in Chongiqng will become urban dwellers, living and working in the city," Huang Qifan, vice mayor of the fourth and the largest municipality in China, said.

"How to settle those farmers is the most important thing in the whole pilot reform."

The municipal government will ensure the new urban residents enjoy the same rights and services as others do with access to household registration, social security, education, sanitation, medical service, cultural facilities, and land management.

"We're thinking about releasing the land of the farmers who settle down in the city for other uses," the mayor said.

"Of course we will pay them well and ask them to give us the land they don't need anymore."

When farmers move to the city, they will require less space than before. In countryside, a farmer occupies about 200 square meters of land but only 100 in the city, on average.

According to Huang's calculation, if the land of 10 million farmers in rural areas can be released, urbanization would not reduce the overall the size of available farmland, but increase it.

"But to absorb 10 million newcomers to the city, the economic capacity of Chongqing proper should become much stronger," Huang said.

Billions of dollars investment for infrastructure in the past 10 years, has helped build Chongqing into a transportation center and the "trade gateway" in western China.

In March, Beijing announced it would develop Chongqing into the economic and financial center of the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River by 2020.

(China Daily June 16, 2007)

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