Feb 12, 2015 06:21 PM

Xi Tells Capital to Shed Unneeded Functions, Integrate with Neighbors

(Beijing) – The head of the Communist Party has told Beijing it should "offload some functions" and work to better integrate with its neighbors, but an urban planning expert warns policymakers against solutions that hurt ordinary people.

Xi Jinping, the party's general secretary, said at a meeting on financial and economic affairs on February 10, that Beijing should free itself of some functions that don't match its status.

"It is a systematic undertaking of gigantic scale for Beijing to offload some of the functions that have little to do with its status as capital and to push for collaborated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province," he said.

The capital "needs to explore a better way of development to facilitate regional coordination and development, and to nurture new growth."

Beijing serves as not only a political and cultural center, but is also a busy economic hub that is home to many companies, heavy industry and large wholesale markets. It is also home to a wide range of public services, from hospitals to educational facilities.

This collection of economic opportunities and public services attracts people from all over the country to live and work in the capital. But it has also led to complaints the city is overcrowded and has terrible traffic and air pollution.

The capital's population has soared from 14.93 million in 2004 to 21.52 million at the end of last year, official statistics show. The city has added nearly 800,000 registered vehicles since 2010, despite imposing a quota on purchases.

The city government has started to take measures to address its problems. It has pushed for the closure of heavily polluting factories, and for the relocation of large wholesale markets, such as a huge clothing market near the zoo. Last year it also moved to restrict the access the children of migrant workers have to public schools in a bid to get the migrants – particularly those laboring in low-earning jobs – to leave town.

Many migrant worker families have responded by just sending their children back to the countryside but staying in the capital themselves because that is where the jobs are. Others have let their children drop out of school.

Yuan Congfa, the vice director of the China City Development Academy under the Ministry of Housing and Urban-rural Development, said Beijing must make some changes, but policymakers should be rational and consider the public's welfare.

"As for the farm produce markets and the wholesales markets, you can't just order them to close just because they are selling cheap goods or look shabby," he said. "To do so will compromise the livelihoods of ordinary people."

Policy changes aimed at better controlling the population should be transparent and fair, Yuan said. He added that a proposal to introduce a points system that allows people from outside Beijing to apply for a hukou – the residence papers necessary for getting children into schools and gaining access to hospitals and other public services – is a step in the right direction because it takes into account the years people have spent in the city and their contributions to the social security fund.

"Otherwise, these policies would result in discrimination that will do no good to social stability," Yuan said.

Xi's call for better integration of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei Province – in part to relieve Beijing of some of its overcapacity – has been heard before. In 2004, the central government announced a program for integrating the Jing Jin Ji region, as it is known, but little came of it.

Xi then raised the idea in February last year, saying the coordinated development of the region is an important national strategy and urging the three governments to cooperate on environmental protection, infrastructure, transportation and industrial issues.

(Rewritten by Li Rongde)

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