We're excited to bring you our first guest post. Graham Thompson of The Blackford Trust (who we recently featured in an interview) kindly offered to review the OECD's recent report on rural policy in China. Read all about it!
China's drive towards urbanization, it remains a predominantly rural country,
with over 700m people living in the countryside – nearly twice the rural
population in all OECD countries. Rural
policy remains fundamental to China's future, and has been examined in great
detail in a recent publication by the OECD (Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development). The
Rural Policy Review of China, published in March 2009,
was a collaborative effort between Chinese government and OECD
researchers. In addition, the work was partly funded by
the devolved government of Scotland, a fact that is greatly welcomed by this
writer, as a former Scottish rural policy official and Chairman of a charity
that is focused on enhancing Scottish/China links.
At the press launch of the report, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria noted, “the importance of the rural world seems to have vanished behind the haze of uncertainty that this grave global crisis has caused”. But as she added, “in fact, it is more important than ever...the vast economic potential of the rural world opens a unique opportunity to help to reactivate our economies.” Nowhere is this more than case than in China.
The OECD report
is divided into three parts – a profile of rural China, a policy assessment,
and policy recommendations. At around
200 pages, with very extensive statistics, it is both comprehensive and
illuminating, shining new light into some of the less well known corners of the
Chinese rural economy.
Five rural Chinas
The first section concludes that there are, in fact, five rural Chinas with differing characteristics. The OECD defines these as follows, and broadly allocates provinces to each category:
- the rural poor – Gansu, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Tibet, Xinjiang and Yunnan
- the rural with strong outmigration – Anhui, Chongqing, Guangxi, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Sichuan
- the rural dependent on grain production – Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning
- the rural diversified – Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Shandong and Zhejiang
- the rural peri-urban – Beijing, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Tianjin
The report also
notes “the heterogeneity of rural China across provinces is further exacerbated
by diversity within provinces”, with very different “rural Chinas found in
relatively close proximity to each other”. This variety of course leads to a need for a diversity of rural policies
– one size will not fit all.
The OECD do recognize that “China's rural development strategy and related reforms are sound and innovative”, and that the country has made “remarkable progress” in raising the standards of living of its rural population in the past 30 years. However, significant challenges remain.
The report notes that Chinese government complexity, at both national and provincial level, means “joined up” and consistent policy-making and delivery is still an aspiration. In addition, the “modest administrative capacity of local officials” needs to be addressed. Equally, despite improvements, there is still some way to go in delivering clean water, sanitation, rural health care and rural education services. The OECD welcomes the fact that the Chinese stimulus package for the current crisis contains “a significant regional and rural policy component”.
Despite the continuing importance of agriculture, income diversification is seen as a major driver for the new Chinese rural economy. Emerging sectors such as tourism, renewable energy production, and other high value-added traditional industries such as food and forestry are identified as possible areas for development. The report is especially useful in providing “good practice” examples from other OECD countries, such as the role of Highland and Islands Enterprise in developing the remote rural areas of Scotland.
Recommendations for Chinese policy
The OECD conclude
by making several key policy recommendations, including:
- a more integrated, strategic approach to policymaking, perhaps even including the creation of a rural ministry
- further reform of the government's rural financial system
- better tailoring of central directives to local circumstances, with more participation from local people and better training for local officials
- strengthening of the rule of law in the countryside
- further enhancements to land use rights
- greater use of ICT to deliver government services to remote areas
- a much greater focus on economic diversification
This short review can only scratch the surface of a complex and large issue, but this OECD report is probably required reading for any NGO involved in the rural sector in China. It is hoped that this report will also further inform the Chinese government's own development of rural policy.
The report is available via the OECD website. The e-book version costs USD49/RMB5200, the hard copy paperback, USD79/RMB7500 (https://www.oecdbookshop.org/oecd/display.asp?lang=EN&sf1=identifiers&st1=9789264059566).
--Graham Thompson is Chairman of The Blackford Trust, a Scottish charity funding projects in Scotland and China. For more information, see www.blackfordtrust.org.uk.