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Beijing weighs options over rising population

Publication Date : 17-01-2014


A series of measures planned by Beijing, including a crackdown on illegal shared housing and a rise in subway fares, may force some of the floating population away, experts say.

However, they also warned that excessive population growth will remain a problem for the capital.

"Most of the floating population have to rent and also don't have a high income," said Lu Jiehua, sociologist at Peking University. "This makes them the main group that is going to be affected by these measures."

Without hukou, or permanent residency, members of the floating population are only allowed to buy homes if they have contributed to the social security fund for five consecutive years or have a certificate of work and residence in Beijing, meaning most must rent homes.

Many crowd themselves into shared housing because of high rent prices.

On December 26, Chen Gang, vice-mayor of Beijing, said the capital will try to end the illegal shared housing problem in 2014.

The Beijing government published a regulation on home leasing on July 18, ruling that living space in a rented apartment should be no less than 5 square metres per person and no change to the original apartment structure should be made.

The city's transport commission has also started a study of price adjustments for public transportation, including both subway and bus fares.

Ma Boyi, spokesman for the commission, said raising subway fares during rush hour was one option, but the commission is also studying other options - to charge according to stations, to raise the 2 yuan (33 US cents) fare or adjust price depending on subway segment.

A subway ticket for 2 yuan currently allows passengers to reach any subway station.

On January 7, Xicheng district confirmed Beijing Zoo Wholesale Market and Dahongmen wholesale market will be moved. According to Sun Shuo, deputy director of Xicheng district, the relocation of the zoo market is in accordance with central government requirements for the "harmonious and sustainable development of population, resources and environment".

According to data published by Beijing's bureau of statistics, as of the end of 2012 the permanent population in the capital had reached 20.69 million, far exceeding the planned target of 18 million by 2020.

Beijing saw its population increase by 6.37 million people from 2000 to 2011 and three-fourths of the increase is from the floating population.

Research project

"The main purpose of the plans is to restrict population growth," said professor Zhao Xiuchi at the Capital University of Economics and Business.

In 2010, she participated in a research project on redistributing the population and urban functions in downtown areas of Beijing.

"Data show the population growth in Beijing is mainly caused by the floating population," Zhao said.

According to Zhao, Dongcheng and Xicheng districts both have to redistribute 100,000 people in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).

The government's decision to end illegal shared housing is to "reduce the population density", Zhao explained.

However, she said the decision to raise the subway fare is not only to control population growth. It's also because the subsidy the government pays for the subway fare gets larger and larger as more subway lines are built, putting the government's fiscal expenditure under greater pressure.

Qu Xiaobo, associate professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Population and Labor Economics, said the measures will be taken based on the excessive growth of the population in Beijing.

Rental price

The crackdown on illegal shared housing will raise rents, and the price of some commodities will also go up because of the decrease in sellers as big wholesale markets are moved out, according to Li Jianmin, director of Nankai University's Institute of Population and Development.

He said the rise in subway fares, even though not by a large amount, will put the floating population under more pressure.

China Central Television reported late in April that the average rental price for an apartment in Beijing in the first quarter of 2013 was 3,660 yuan.

Both Li and Qu said some people may have to leave Beijing as they cannot afford the rising living costs.

"Some people may ask their companies to raise their salaries in the face of rising living costs, which will result in rising costs for many companies," Qu said. "In such a situation, some companies may try to reduce their costs by hiring fewer people."

He said some people may have to leave Beijing because of a decrease in working opportunities. The increase in costs may also force some low-end industries to move out of Beijing.

New arrivals

Professor Lu at Peking University said, however, that those measures will only have an influence on population growth in the capital over the short term.

Facing tidal wave of new people, city weighs its options

"Some people will leave as living costs rise, but a new group of people will come as many still think they can make money in the capital," Lu said.

Solving excessive population growth in Beijing needs a change of the whole industrial structure of the city and removal of functions the capital shoulders in nearby cities, Lu said.

Zhao agreed and said the key is to redistribute.

"Actually, the key to controlling population growth in Beijing is to redistribute its functions. As the capital, Beijing is not only a political, economic and cultural center but also a commercial, transportation, tourism, education, medical center, and so on."

Zhao said the excessive population in Beijing has its roots in the imbalanced development of the country, and too many public resources are concentrated in Beijing. "If the country develops evenly nationwide, the excessive population growth in Beijing will be under control," Zhao said.

Li Jianming echoed Zhao, saying the unbalanced distribution of public resources in the country makes curbing of the excessive population growth in the capital hard to do.

"The great public resources in Beijing are just like a big black hole, attracting people, " Li said.

"Unlike the situation in some foreign countries where many young people come to the cities while many old people leave, many elderly stay in the capital just for the great medical resources."

Li said the capital should insist on its role as a political and cultural center instead of paying so much attention to developing the economy.

"Restricting population growth requires a restriction in the industry structure first," Li said.


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