According to a recent report from Beijing News, even as some large cities like Beijing and Shanghai are taking measures to limit their populations, certain middle-sized and small cities are eager to accelerate their development by increasing the population. Some even hope to double their populations by 2020 or 2030.
Data from the State Council shows that, as of May 2016, more than 3,500 new urban areas are slated to be built, with a total capacity of 3.4 billion people. However, many people are asking: Who will live in these new urban areas that can hold nearly half the world’s population?
In 2015, China’s urbanization rate was 56.1 percent. The 13th Five-Year Plan proposes that by 2020, China’s long-term residence urbanization rate will reach 60 percent, and the household urbanization rate will reach 45 percent.
Li Zuojun, a researcher with the State Council Development Research Center, said, “At present, China’s household urbanization rate is 39.9 percent. In the near future this number will need to increase by five percentage points, which is equivalent to the urbanization of 100 million people. The task is arduous.”
“A population of 3.4 billion is equivalent to about 2.5 times the size of China’s current population, and one half of the world’s population. The local governments’ plan is clearly unrealistic,” said Hu Gang, president of the South China Association of City Planning.
Wang Yukai, a professor at the National School of Administration, said the China’s baby boom is very clearly in the country’s past. Even with the liberalization of the one-child policy, the population growth rate will not rise very sharply. What’s more, Wang believes that population growth in cities will come mainly from emptying rural areas. Considering the desire of many rural dwellers to settle down in cities, a population of 3.4 billion seems highly unlikely.
The 2015 National New Urbanization Report showed that more than 70 percent of Chinese migrant workers move to prefecture-level cities. Less than 10 percent choose to go to small towns. For that reason, some small town governments not only face difficulty attracting new residents, they also have to deal with the outflow of their existing population.
Experts point out that cities built on the basis of administrative orders often have difficulty providing sufficient and satisfactory consumer services, and they cannot attract residents with the promise of stable jobs. Zhao Jian, director of the China Urban Research Center of Beijing’s Jiaotong University, believes that any future breakthroughs in urbanization will mainly rely on market mechanisms rather than administrative means, which could potentially lead to a grave “mismatch” of space and resources.