September 18, 2013 / 10:18 AM / 6 years ago

World Bank chief urges China to better manage urbanization

BEIJING (Reuters) - China must plan its massive urbanization better to limit environmental damage and to ensure that millions of migrants benefit more from the process, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said on Wednesday.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim gestures during a press conference held in Beijing, September 18, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily

In the past 30 years, China’s urban population has jumped to more than 700 million from less than 200 million. The dramatic shift sometimes has triggered violent clashes over expropriation of farmland for development, as well as water shortages, pollution and other problems.

“China is well aware that its rapid urbanization and rapid economic growth has come at a cost, even as that growth has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty,” Kim told a news conference at the end of a four-day visit to China.

“China now needs to find new ways to make cities more energy efficient, promote clean energy, and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution,” he said. “If China breathes easier, the world will breathe easier, too.”

As part of efforts to make consumers the main driver of the economy, China’s leaders aim to have 60 percent of its almost 1.4 billion population plan be urban residents by 2020.

Kim said the bank hopes China can build denser cities where people live closer to their work, with better transport systems.

The World Bank is working with the Development Research Centre - the cabinet’s think-tank - to shape a “strategic view” on how China should proceed with urbanization, he said, adding that their report could be made public by December.

Premier Li Keqiang recently flagged the need for “humanity-centered” urbanization and he solicited views from Chinese experts on how to improve the process.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) delayed release of an urbanization plan from the first half of the year. A top official has said it will come out in the second half.

The World Bank chief said another important issue for China to tackle is protecting farmers’ rights to land, and seeing that they “share the benefits of land development in a more equitable way.”

Farmers in China do not own their fields directly. Instead, most rural land is owned collectively by a village, and farmers get decades-long leases.

In theory, the villagers can collectively decide to apply to sell off or develop land. In practice, however, local governments usually decide land sales and get the bulk of the revenue.

Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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