To enhance the environment of China's vast rural area was vital for the speeding-up process of the country's urbanization which had already reached 45 percent, a housing and urban-rural development official said on Tuesday.
Li Bingdi, director of the Village Building Office under the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, told a press conference here that the country's urbanization would increase annually by 0.8 to 1 percentage points in the next 10 to 15 years.
Through 2007, China had 594 million urban residents, or 44.9 percent of its entire population, up from 1982's 21.1 percent.
Li said the overall development of rural and urban areas did not mean a unified development mode. Instead, cities should support villages and farmers could enjoy advanced public services as urbanites have.
"It also involves establishing an equalized job market across the rural and urban regions, and promoting the setup of the rural medical insurance system and the reform of the rural financial system," said Li, adding the southeastern Chongqing and Chengdu were two pilot areas in the urban-rural development.
He said rural infrastructure was poor as only 45 percent of the countryside could use tap water, 49 percent could be reached by bus and slightly more than 25 percent had set places to collect trash.
The State Council, the country's Cabinet, issued a document at the beginning of the year pointing out that part of the urban development tax should be allocated to help build rural infrastructure.
Li also commented on rural housing, saying "China has more than 26 billion square meters of rural houses, with an annual increase of 600 million square meters which are similar with the number of newly-built urban houses each year."
Although farmers once built as many as 1.4 billion square meters in a year, Li said problems such as unsafe construction rested with rural housing.
"The rural living environment is much worse than that in cities."
Some of the reasons behind the large disparity lay in the different rural-urban housing modes.
Li said rural houses were built, owned and managed by the owners themselves, which ensured a basic housing for the country's 800 million farmers. City housing, in contrast, was rented or bought, and ownership only lasted for decades.
"Chinese farmers are known to build houses immediately after they had money on hand as a house means everything to them."
China's rapid urbanization process also allowed for the world's biggest rural-urban mobilization each year. Li said the current 130 million rural migrant workers, a group with distinct Chinese characteristics, had greatly contributed to the nation's urbanization.
For each percentage point increase in urbanization, there are about 10 million population transferred from the countryside to cities.
"They come to cities, bring back urban lifestyle and working techniques to the countryside and boost the sector's development in rural area," he said. Migrant workers greatly improved the life of their family who usually again built new houses back home.
Li said in the rural-urban development, city planning could include deserted rural lands as long as the 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of farm land, set by the central government as a basic bottom line of development, was not touched.
The State Council reiterated the country's farm land should not be less than 1.8 billion mu.
Zhang Qin, the ministry's rural-urban planning department vice director, said ecological problems were faced by the country's rapid urbanization.
China currently has 655 cities and 20,000 towns.
To alleviate the tension between environmental protection and urban development, the government had limited construction in ecological preservation and environmentally-vulnerable areas and asked city planners to strictly abide by standards in the proportion of water area, green fields and historical sites in developing cities.
(Xinhua News Agency August 20, 2008)