Chinese Officials Vow to Spread Growth Benefits

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 30, 2005; 10:48 AM

BEIJING, Sept. 30 -- The ruling Communist Party vowed Friday to spread the benefits of economic growth more fairly among all levels of Chinese society, seeking particularly to close the yawning income gap between farmers and city dwellers.

The pledge, issued by the Politburo, the country's top policymaking body, was seen in part as a response to growing unrest, especially in small towns and villages, by peasants who feel they have been left out of the economic boom that has transformed China over the last two decades.

"In the next five years, China should pay more attention to social fairness and democracy and earnestly solve the problems closely related to the people's interests," said a statement relayed by the official New China News Agency. "Development of economy and society, of cities and the countryside, and of different regions, should be more balanced and harmonious in the 2006-2010 period."

The statement, also published in the official People's Daily and other major newspapers, reported on a meeting of the 25 Politburo members held Thursday in Beijing under President Hu Jintao, who is general secretary of the Central Committee and thus the senior party leader. The meeting laid out an agenda for the annual Central Committee plenum scheduled Oct. 8-11, which will approve China's 11th Five-Year Plan for economic development covering 2006-2010.

Hu and his premier, Wen Jiabao, have strongly emphasized the need for more equitable wealth distribution since taking over the Chinese leadership nearly three years ago. Nevertheless, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen as market reforms create money-making opportunities for private businesses and allied government officials, while often leaving peasants in the lurch.

The Politburo's call for more determination to attack the problem reflected growing awareness at senior levels of the party that widespread dissatisfaction over the glaring inequalities has become a potentially troublesome political issue. The number of violent incidents across the country has shot up dramatically over the last year, according to a recent assessment from the Public Security Ministry, and most stem from economic grievances against local authorities.

"After 20 years of opening and reform, China has now come to a key stage of development," said Ye Duchu, a professor at the Central Party School for up-and-coming functionaries, in a recent interview with Southern Weekend newspaper. "Problems like the income gap, the rural-urban gap, corruption and so on, have begun to emerge quickly. How to solve these problems and eliminate inharmonious factors now seem crucial to China's opening process."

Study Times, the party school's official organ, warned last week that the alliance between party and business, often greased by corruption, itself is a big reason for the income inequality that has farmers so upset. Citing a study published by the Labor and Social Security Ministry, the paper said incomes gaps have reached "the yellow light alarm level" and within five years could reach a "dangerous red light level" that could result in "destabilizing social phenomena" unless something is done to change the trend.

Some Chinese academics interpreted that comment as an attempt by concerned government officials to make sure the issue received a prominent place on the Central Committee agenda and in the next Five-Year Plan. Judging from the report published Friday, their tactic was partially successful--the income gap got a prominent spot, but corruption was not mentioned.

In addition to the pledge to pay more attention to those left behind, the Politburo said it would call on industries to give support to farmers and on more developed cities to give support to poor rural areas. How this would be done was not spelled out.

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