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China premier calls for 'human focus' to urbanization plan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's premier, Li Keqiang, wants his plan to turn more Chinese into city dwellers to be "humanity-centered", focusing on quality of life and the environment and driven by job creation, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Sunday.

Li, who took office this year, has an ambitious plan to boost China's urban population by 400 million over the next decade, a key plank in a reform effort to restructure the economy away from credit and export driven growth to one where consumers provide the main impetus.

But the plan faces huge obstacles, including a lack of infrastructure in cities to deal with an influx of new residents and the cost of building it, which has led to concern that a spending binge could push up already high local debt levels and inflate a property bubble.

The need to reform a complex system of residency registration that controls the benefits residents can enjoy is also a sticking point.

The China Daily said on its website that Li recently met a group of more than 10 experts to discuss the urbanization drive, in what it called a sign of his concern over driving the policy.

It quoted some of the experts as saying young migrant workers wanted to stay in the cities they had moved to, but few had access to social security, education and housing benefits under the rigid registration, or "hukou", system.

Other experts noted the need for sufficient economic growth to create the jobs needed to support urbanization, so there should not be an overly aggressive target for urbanization.

Li, who wrote a doctoral thesis on urbanization in the early 1990s, said the government should first identify areas of consensus, such as the redevelopment of slum communities on the edge of cities, as a base for further steps towards urbanization, the paper said.

"Quality is the key and reform should be the impetus," the paper quoted Li as saying. "We should be guided by ordinary people's hopes, and be active and orderly in pushing the process forward."

In July a government think-tank said the cost of settling China's rural workers in cities could be about 650 billion yuan ($106 billion) a year, or about 5.5 percent of fiscal revenue last year.

Top economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission has said it will unveil an urbanization plan in the second half of this year.

(Reporting by Jonathan Standing)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130908/china-premier-calls-human-focus-urbanization-plan