- Make us your homepage -
Simplified ChineseTraditional Chinese

Latest Update

Hopes high on income distribution reform

Updated: 11 11 , 2013 14:49
Xinhua Small  Medium  Large Email Print

BEIJING -- Income distribution reform has once again come under the spotlight in China as observers pin high hopes on the upcoming key session of the Communist Party of China (CPC) scheduled to open on Saturday.

In February, the government unveiled a guideline to reform income distribution mechanisms amid growing public concern over the widening wealth gap, though details on a timetable for the reform have yet to be made available.

"There's no doubt it's at the top of agenda, considering the urgency of the issue," said Chi Fulin, president of the China Institute for Reform and Development, a Hainan-based think tank.

The National Bureau of Statistics reported in January that in 2012, China's Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of income distribution, was 0.474, in which zero equals perfect equality.

Chi said he believes a whole package of detailed policies will come after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee.

China has been working on income distribution reform since 2004, but people's expectations have been unfulfilled. Powerful interest groups, such as state-owned monopolies, have become a major target of public complaint.

"That is why college graduates try to break into state-owned enterprises or become civil servants, because higher welfare will be guaranteed," said Zhao Xiaoming, who graduated from Sichuan Normal University in July and has failed to find his dream job as a school teacher.

In a widely-watched move, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission launched an investigation into the incomes of employees of state-owned organizations or enterprises in mid-August, with a new investigation item targeting "hidden income" included.

The investigation is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

"It's directed at the crux of the problem," said Chi. "You can't make a fair distribution before you actually know how much you have. The investigation results will be an important reference to push forward income distribution reform."

According to Chi, the current unfair distribution of income is partly caused by the disparity between urban and rural areas and coastal and inland regions. But it can also be attributed to industrial monopolies and government agencies competing with the private sector.

The reform is a readjustment of the current structure of interests, he said.

Zheng Xinli, executive deputy director of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, believes that China should increase the income of the middle- and lower-income earners to form an "olive-shaped" income distribution structure, instead of the current pyramid-shaped one.

According to the General Social Survey carried out by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2012, the income range of the middle class is 11,800 to 17,700 U.S. dollars per year, which means the middle class makes up around 23 percent of China's total population, far lower than the percentage in developed countries, and even lower than some other emerging countries.

According to the February guideline to reform income distribution mechanisms, the government will work to double the average real income of urban and rural residents by 2020 from 2010 levels and allow faster income growth for the poor.

It will also strengthen scrutiny on high-income groups, such as officials, employees of state-owned enterprises and other wealthy individuals.

According to the latest survey by Forbes early this year, China had 122 billionaires in terms of U.S. dollar. A rival list in the Hurun Report in February said China had 317 billionaires -- a fifth of the world's total.

Many observers say that fundamental tax reforms are essential to create a more equal income distribution.

Debate has sizzled since October over the government's intention to levy inheritance taxes and property taxes to regulate income distribution.

Jia Kang, director of the Research Institute for Fiscal Science at China's Ministry of Finance, noted disagreements existed even at the government level on whether a pilot tax reform should be conducted before it is included in the law.

"Any future scheme must take into full account the widely different income levels in China and decisions must be based on the collection and analysis of a huge amount of data," said Jia, adding that it is highly possible that signals for tax reform will be released in the CPC session.

Some have seen hope that the urban-rural income gap is being narrowed, as the growth of per capita income of rural residents has surpassed that of urban residents since 2010, a trend that has persisted in the first three quarters of 2013.

Despite these achievements, Tang Jiqiang, a researcher at the Chinese Finance Research Institute, noted that the growth of people's income has lagged behind that of GDP in recent years, which indicates that people haven't fully enjoyed the benefits of the country's stronger economy.

"Simultaneous growth of the two depends on deepening reform, which is the actual obligation of the Party session," said Tang.

Related Stories