China state think tank looks at residency permit reform


BEIJING–China should dismantle its widely loathed residency registration system, which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for hundreds of millions of migrants, a government-affiliated think tank said, according to reports Monday. The Development Research Center (DRC) of the State Council, or cabinet, issued a list of far-reaching reform proposals before a key meeting of the ruling Communist Party next month, when changes are expected to be approved. Residency is a major source of controversy in China. Those who hold urban “hukou,” or permits, have greater rights to state medical insurance, education and other services in each area, often excluding the hundreds of millions of people who have moved to cities in recent decades in search of better incomes. The DRC said the system should be replaced with a “basic social safety package” including pension and medical insurance, reports said. “All the benefits should be recorded in a personal social security card … that can be used nationwide,” it said, according to excerpts on the website of the official Xinhua news agency. “With the moving of the time and the expansion and improvement of the plan, it is expected to eventually replace the residency registration system.” The measure is aimed at “promoting the free migration of people, ensuring the basic social benefits for citizens, optimizing the distribution of resources and the improvement of productivity,” the report added. The DRC declined to comment to AFP on Monday. The proposals have been submitted to the Communist Party’s third plenum, the China Business News said, adding that one of the authors was Liu He, who has a leading role in drafting the official reform plan and is a vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency. But several other competing sets of proposals are also expected to be put forward.

Other ideas in the DRC report — which did not give specific timetables — included publishing officials’ personal assets; restructuring the state-monopoly railway, energy, telecommunications and financial sectors to open them to competition; and making the yuan an international currency within 10 years. It said property tax, which is being collected on a trial basis in some areas, should be rolled out nationwide and become a major income source for local governments, which should be banned from buying farmers’ land at low prices and reselling it to developers at huge profits.