Beijing to try to cap population at 23 million by 2020

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing will try to cap its population at 23 million in 2020, Vice Mayor Li Shixiang said on Friday, as the Chinese capital comes under pressure from a severe water shortage.

People buy vegetables at a morning market in Panjiayuan district, Beijing October 6, 2005. REUTERS/China Newsphoto

The city’s population has expanded rapidly in recent years, as migrants from other parts of the country arrive seeking jobs.

With a population of 21.5 million people last year, Beijing already exceeds the 2020 target of 18 million set in 2005.

That has created severe pressure on Beijing and surrounding areas where water scarcity has been made worse by widespread pollution of rivers and groundwater.

“Beijing wants to restrict the population to no more than 23 million by 2020,” said Li.

Beijing is short of 1.5 billion cubic meters of water a year, Li told a gathering of Beijing delegates to the annual meeting of China’s parliament on Friday.

While the south-north water transfer project will partially ease the shortage, it will not solve the whole problem, he added, referring to the country’s ambitious diversion of water from the humid south to arid northern provinces and Beijing.

The controversial project is targeted to supply a third of the Beijing’s water.

Li said the city would work harder to relocate industry to areas outside the capital and also build new schools and hospitals to reduce the flow of some 700,000 non-Beijing residents seeking medical treatment in the capital every day.

“To resolve Beijing’s big city disease, there are limits to only relying on Beijing’s efforts. We must also make a plan for the wider area,” Li said.

Reporting by Kathy Chen and Dominique Patton; Editing by Nick Macfie