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Focus on jobs, welfare at heart of bid to raise living standards

By William Kazer, South China Morning Post, 8 March 2001

Beijing - China's top economic planner said yesterday that raising the quality of life for the nation's 1.3 billion people was a key target of the 10th Five-Year Plan.

There will be a big improvement in living standards by the end of the Five-Year Plan, said Zeng Peiyan, Minister of the State Planning and Development Commission.

While industry, technological upgrades and ideology have been at the heart of previous plans, the blueprint for development in the 2001-2005 period looks at more down-to-earth matters.

Mr Zeng described key objectives as boosting income, creating a social safety net, adding jobs and raising the quality of life.

People are the core of this, he said on the sidelines of the NPC session.

The minister said the Government hoped to raise yearly urban income levels to 8,000 yuan (HK$7,520) and rural income to 3,000 yuan by the end of 2005, from 6,280 and 2,253 yuan last year.

The mainland also aims to add 12 million new jobs a year, two million more a year than during the previous five-year period.

Urban and rural residents would get more living space, while more green areas in cities would improve living conditions. Beijing also wants urban and rural residents covered by a social security system as well as medical and unemployment insurance.

These ambitious goals come as the nation's medical costs rise with the removal of subsidies and state-run enterprises cut jobs to boost competitiveness.

Many state-run enterprises have run into financial difficulties, and are unable to pay wages or provide required benefits to employees. The Five-Year Plan has not neglected industry, which will undergo a substantial restructuring to boost competitiveness.

Infrastructure, particularly in poorer areas, will also receive more attention.

One key project is the railway that will link Qinghai with Tibet - two areas that rely on a difficult road or air transport.

Mr Zeng declined to say how much would be spent on the Shanghai-Beijing high-speed railway. Unofficial estimates put the cost at up to US$15 billion (HK$117 billion).

The existing railway is basically operating at full capacity, Mr Zeng said. We will need to build a high-speed rail link.

The minister declined to be drawn on whether the link would use conventional rail technology or the untested magnetic levitation technology pioneered by Germany.

A Sino-German consortium has begun work on a 31.5km demonstration link between Shanghai's Pudong airport and the city's downtown area. The project is widely seen as a trial to determine whether the technology would be suitable for the 1,100km route between Shanghai and Beijing.

Mr Zeng said a decision on the technology and possibly construction work would be made during the current five-year period.