China to relax residency curbs, boost infrastructure in new urbanization push

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will relax residency curbs in many of its smaller cities this year and increase infrastructure spending, the state planner said on Monday, in a fresh push to boost the urban population and revive slowing economic growth.

FILE PHOTO: People stand outside a low-cost dwelling at a village, which is mainly inhabited by migrant workers, in Tongzhou district of Beijing, China December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said it aims to increase China’s urbanization rate by at least 1 percentage point by the end of this year.

The latest push is part of its longer-term goal of bringing 100 million people into the cities over the five years to 2020. In 2018, 59.6 percent of China’s population lived in urban areas.

“This will provide strong support for maintaining sustained and healthy economic development and overall social stability,” the NDRC said in a notice on its website.

The NDRC will scrap restrictions in cities of 1 to 3 million on coveted household registration permits for out-of-towners, which include migrant workers and college graduates. For cities of 3 to 5 million, which include many provincial capitals, such restrictions will be “comprehensively relaxed”, although the NDRC did not provide specifics on such moves.

Such permits, known as “hukou”, have been used to control internal migration in China for many years. Without a permit, a resident of a city is denied access to many public services, such as education and healthcare. These restrictions have often been blamed for pushing migrants to the margins of society in China’s cities.

Under China’s multi-year crackdown on the country’s property investment bubble, internal migrants are also often categorized as speculative buyers and have been subject to local purchase curbs, adding to pressures on these communities.

The Financial News, a newspaper controlled by China’s central bank, on Monday called for local governments to prepare policy plans to prevent fluctuations in the property market that negatively impacted consumer rights and financial stability.

But critics in the real estate and securities industries say any easing of these policies could undermine authorities’ efforts to control property speculation.

The NDRC added Beijing will guide policy banks to step up credit support to fund key urban projects, as well as encourage commercial banks to “properly boost” their credit support for such projects.

The NDRC will also support the launches of real estate investment trusts (REITs), to help the development of the rental housing market.

Reporting by Stella Qiu, Yawen Chen and Kevin Yao; Writing by Yawen Chen; Editing by Michael Perry and Sam Holmes