China should manage the pace and quality of its inevitable urbanization, Premier Li Keqiang said at a recent conference with the nation's top scholars.
New challenges will certainly arise in urbanizing and modernizing, given the country's population of 1.3 billion, he said. And urbanization is a long process that cannot be completed overnight, he added.
"But we should be guided by ordinary people's hopes, and be active and orderly in pushing the process forward," he said.
Li invited more than a dozen experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering to Zhongnanhai, the central government complex. It was an apparent sign of his concern about advancing urbanization, which has emerged among his top policy priorities since he took office.
A medium- to long-term urbanization outline is expected to be announced after the 18th CPC Central Committee's third plenary session in November.
Chinese Academy of Engineering experts presented Li the results of interviews and questionnaires with young migrant workers.
The overwhelming majority of these people, born in the 1980s or '90s, are unwilling to return to their hometowns to farm. They want to remain in cities and become "real urbanites".
But most have not yet enjoyed equal access to social security, education and housing compared with people with urban hukou (household registration).
Although 52.6 percent of the country's population spent at least half their time living in cities in 2012, only 35 percent had urban hukou.
Upon hearing the presentation, Li said urbanization's new style should be "humanity-centered".
"Quality" is the key and "reform" should be the impetus, he said.
Chinese Academy of Engineering academician Zhu Gaofeng said urbanization should focus on employment. Urbanization without full employment could produce "ghost towns" and slums.
Chinese Academy of Sciences scholar Lu Dadao said that, as China's industrial structure upgrades, its technology advances and its labor costs rise, enterprises will reduce their workplace labor intensity. Consequently, China must advance economic growth to retain the employment rate by creating new jobs. This also suggests it is better to avoid an overly aggressive urbanization rate target.
Li responded by saying enhancing industry improves cities, and only industry can create sufficient jobs.
Foremost concerns include boosting service sectors, and integrating industrialization, informatization and agricultural modernization, Li said.
Chinese Academy of Engineering academicians Qian Yi and Tang Xiaoyan also suggested urbanization must heed environmental and ecological capacities.
Li said energy efficiency and resource conservation should be new urbanization's leading principles.
More than 10 experts spoke during the three-hour conference.
Li summarized by saying that urbanization is "complex" and "systematic", and demands scientific reasoning and careful planning.
He explained the country should identify areas of consensus, such as shantytown redevelopment, as breakthroughs from which other steps can begin.