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Talent flow drives integrated urban-rural development

XIN BAOYING and PANG JIAPING | 2021-02-18 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Household registers in China, also known as hukou Photo: Zhu Gaolei/PROVIDED TO CSST

The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee stressed that China will foster a new type of relationship between industry and agriculture and between urban and rural areas, in which industry and agriculture mutually promote each other, urban areas and rural areas supplement one another, industry and agriculture reinforce each other, while rural modernization continues to gain pace. 
Currently, imbalanced development remains between China’s urban and rural areas, while the latter remain insufficiently developed. Promoting integrated development between the two will not only help us address the principal contradiction facing our society in the new era, but also give strong impetus to tap the potential of rural and urban development. Talent holds the key to an integrated urban-rural development, which requires us to explore new development ideas, unblock the two-way flow channel of talent between urban and rural areas, and fully vitalize the talent resources of both sides. By doing so, we can foster a virtuous circle of industry factors and capital elements between rural and urban areas, which will support the country’s endeavor to create a new “dual-circulation” development pattern. 
Urban citizenship 
The registration of  migrant workers is the key to fostering a new type of people-centered urbanization. It is an important measure to solve three governance tasks concerning 100 million people, which include granting urban residency to around 100 million rural people who have moved to cities, rebuilding rundown city areas and villages inside cities where around 100 million people live, and guiding the urbanization of around 100 million rural residents in central and western regions to cities in the same region. What’s more, offering urban citizenship is also an effective means to break the urban-rural dual structure. It will also function as an endogenous power driving China’s high-quality economic development, help stabilize society, promote integrated development between rural and urban areas, as well as smooth out domestic circulation. 
Despite the positive outcomes in recent years, efforts to register rural migrants have also encountered many restrictions. The most common obstacles are: one can find work in cities, but it is hard to settle down; one can have equal access to employment, but it is hard to ensure equal rights protection; one can secure a basic living, but it is hard to improve one’s quality of life; one can coexist with locals, but it is hard to fully blend in. To break these patterns, we must improve the mechanism which enables migrant workers to acquire citizenship. 
Overall planning must be done to reform household registration systems. We must unclog the system to assist migrant workers in becoming urban citizens. To be specific, we need to further relax restrictions on urban migration, change the definition of settling according to city regulations, and explore a differentiated residence policy in different regions. Meanwhile, we need to start coordinated reform of the residence permit system. We also need to gradually deemphasize benefits attached to the household registration system, and focus on the essential public service attached to a residence permit, so as to enhance its quality. What’s more, we should establish an e-platform for residency control, which will provide online one-stop services for rural residents applying for urban citizenship. 
Incentive systems need to be enhanced with supporting policies that link people, land, and money, which will further support the registration endeavor. We need to leverage the quota for newly-added construction land to attract more rural people to settle in cities. We need to combine policy support with rural land contract reform, which separates ownership rights, contractors’ rights, and land management rights. We also need to deepen rural land reform, and open up channels for transfer of farmland, residential land, and rural collective construction land, in a bid to maximize use of rural land resources while motivating more rural populations to settle in cities. 
The mechanism for upgrading the human capital of the agricultural transfer workforce must be completed to strengthen the migrants’ ability to become urban citizens. This means we need to improve the vocational education system and continuing education for migrant workers. We need to establish an efficient and unified labor market in which the government, enterprises, social organizations, and individuals can fully play their roles in upgrading the human capital of migrant workers. We must look at both the sources and destinations of the migrant workers, as we try to set up a promotion mechanism that is guided by the government, managed by businesses, supported by social organizations, and centered on self-development. 
Incentive mechanism
China’s No. 1 Central Document for 2020 pointed out that new talent should be encouraged to work in the countryside. Motivating urban talent to work in rural areas helps drive factor flow between the two sides. It also plays a key role in urban-rural integrated development. With solid theoretical knowledge, these highly-skilled workers have insightful views on rural issues. Their wisdom, experience, and value will bring great socioeconomic benefits to rural vitalization and urban-rural integrated development. However, confined by their natural environment and scientific and technological levels, rural areas are suffering from a talent drain as the country’s urbanization drive gains speed. During the urban-rural integrated development process, large quantities of rural laborers continue to migrate to cities, leading to a critical shortage of grassroots agricultural technicians, economic management personnel, and rural labor force. Therefore, it is necessary to establish an incentive mechanism that attracts, retains, and fully makes use of urban talent.
Incentive policies like social insurance, financial, and fiscal support should be rolled out to entice entrepreneurs to start up businesses in rural areas. We should make full use of the talent’s subjective initiative, optimize resource allocation, offer them preferential policies with funding and resources, and establish a risk compensation mechanism. What’s more, we can set up banking institutions for small and micro businesses to help with financing difficulties. We should also look at other practical difficulties, such as designing preferential policies to help urban talent find accommodations, as well as helping their family members find jobs. 
A communication mechanism should be established to encourage talent exchange between urban and rural areas. Urban employees in education, culture, science, and health industries should serve the rural areas on regular terms. We also need to explore ways to introduce new talent to rural collective economic organizations. Flexible talent use is advisable, including technology investment, or allowing an employee to work part-time in urban and rural areas. We need to innovate the evaluation mechanism for professional and technical personnel in villages with mutual identification mechanisms for professional title appraisals, wages, and treatment, etc. This will greatly encourage talent to work in rural areas. 
Channels for introducing talent from cities to villages should be further enlarged, and a long-term mechanism should be created to support this endeavor. We should properly make use of rural areas’  natural environments and existing resources when attracting talent by supporting emerging industries. We need to set up a compensation mechanism for human resources in rural areas by encouraging two groups of people to go to the countryside and support local work: retired professionals and technical personnel with urban permanent residence; management personnel with rural registered permanent residence. We also need to find ways for urban talent to share their dividends, and establish an access permission mechanism with compensation from the rural collective economy in order to attract more talent to settle in the rural area. 
Public services for all
The key to a free flow of factors, like the labor force, and an integrated urban-rural development, are an integrated infrastructure and fundamental public services universally accessible and beneficial in rural and urban areas. Currently, there is still a big gap between the two in terms of their infrastructure, including roads, water, electricity, and information, as well as basic public services, such as public education, health care, social security. This gap confines the mutual flow of talent between urban and rural areas. 
Therefore, a mechanism for integrated urban-rural infrastructure construction is needed. We need a blueprint for integrated new-type infrastructure. We need to pay attention to the linkage between the two sides when planning and designing, and try to extend the coverage of water, electricity, heating, and fuel gas to rural areas surrounding cities. We need to build a diversified fundraising mechanism, and increase public finance input. Apart from the government’s budget, it is also necessary to engage social forces from enterprises, financial institutions, and more, in the endeavor of urban-rural infrastructural construction. Meanwhile, we need to restrict the amount of pollution discharge and garbage disposal transported to villages, while making sure disposal of construction waste is harmless in both cities and villages. 
A mechanism needs to be set up to ensure that basic urban-rural public services are accessible and beneficial for all. We need to make sure that educational resources are more evenly distributed in rural and urban areas. This means we need to prioritize the education in villages, and guarantee that children of migrant workers have an equal right to education in cities. We also need to upgrade the health care service system in the rural area by improving the basic sanitary conditions for local medical treatment and public health, while also increasing the wage of rural medical personnel and pairing local medical institutions with urban hospitals. What’s more, we need to integrate public urban-rural cultural resources and have more cultural resources introduced to villages. We also need to balance the social security system by expanding the social insurance coverage and unifying urban-rural basic medical security systems. 
By facilitating the free flow of talent between the two sides, we can realize the integrated flow of people, land, and capital. This will allow us to unleash the potential value and function of the rural area in the new era, and further narrow the urban-rural gap. In so doing, rural residents’ quality of life will further improve while their incomes increase, which will also release the rural market’s consumption needs and eventually smooth domestic circulation.
Xin Baoying and Pang Jiaping are from the Shandong Institute of New Urbanization at Shandong Management University. 


Edited by WENG RONG