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Beijing aims to limit city’s population to 23 million

Passengers line up and wait for a security check during morning rush hour at Tiantongyuan North Station in Beijing May 27, 2014. Photo: Agencies

“Beijing will keep its aggregate population within 23 million by the end of 2020,” Li Shixiang, executive vice mayor of Beijing, said firmly in response to a question by the China Press regarding the ideal population of Beijing at a CPPCC workshop on March 6.

With the ongoing urbanization of China, the whole nation is facing the dilemma of how to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection, according to Li.

Besides Beijing, many large cities in eastern China are struggling with the same issues including traffic congestion, smoggy weather, and a declining rate of resource per-capita due to an explosive increase in population in big cities.

Li also mentioned that the development of Beijing has mainly relied on the resources from other areas because of the lack of water resources, energy and basic necessities of life, which is fundamentally triggered by overcrowding.

“The 23 million figure is worked out based on the water supply capacity,” Li said, “The quantity of water shortage in Beijing per year is 15 billion cubic meters.” Although the situation of water shortage has been relieved through the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, the problem cannot be rooted out, according to Li.

Started in 2003, the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is aimed at transferring water resources of Yangtze River to the North China region which is suffering from severe water shortage, with the length of over 1,000 kilometers, and the investment budget of over 500 billion yuan, said Li.

However, it is hard for China to set a ceiling considering the double bonuses brought by the urbanization of the rural population in the 90s. While agricultural production in rural areas benefits from intensive farming, the cities enjoy the availability of a large number of cheap laborers from the rural areas.

Besides the potential economic side-effects caused by the restriction of the population in large cities, public opinion is another problem confronting the policy makers, with many citizens on the Internet interpreting the population control policy as “identity discrimination”.

As is the case with Beijing, other local governments throughout China will probably also face the criticism of “identity discrimination”.

Beijing has begun to transfer some of its population since 2014, with some clothing and commodity markets moving out of the city, according to Li who called this phenomenon as the “surgery” of the city in the process of resolving the population issue.

According to Li, the population of the permanent residents in Beijing is 21.51 million with the world highest increase rate of more than 520,000 per year during the past few years.

In fact, the cap on the population of Beijing for 2015 was 18 million as stipulated in one of the government plans years ago, while it was 19 million for 2010.

Some Chinese media say Beijing will receive water supply of 1.5 to 1.7 billion cubic meters once the South-to-North Water Diversion Project is completed in 2020. However, the issue of water shortage will never be handled if Beijing does not meet its population control target once again.

(The article is translated and edited by Zhao Chunmei.)

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