The Future of China’s Urbanisation Transformation in the 21st Century, By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director

27 Mar 2012

By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director

2012 China International Urbanisation Forum, Shanghai
25 March 2012

Excellencies, 
Distinguished guests and friends, 
Ladies and gentlemen, 
Good morning!

As one of the co-organisers of this event, it gives me great pleasure to be able to welcome all of you to the 2012 China International Urbanisation Forum on behalf of UNDP. I would also like to thank the China Centre for Urban Development for their excellent preparations ahead of the forum, as well as the strong support received from CICETE, and the Baoshan District and Shanghai Municipal Governments.

We meet at a very symbolic stage in the history and development process of the People’s Republic of China. As recently as December 2011, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics announced that the national urbanisation rate had surpassed the 50 percent threshold. Now, for the first time in China, there are more citizens living in cities than there are in the countryside. This is a trend that we are seeing around the world, with the development paths of both developed and developing countries clearly showing that there is no such thing as modern development without urbanisation. As part of their development process, countries are seeing their urban populations expand at an increasingly rapid pace as rural populations move in large numbers into cities. With this in mind, China’s urbanisation process is of particular importance for two main reasons. The first is its speed, and the second is its scale. According to the 3rd census (the first one after the economic reform and opening up policy started), China’s urban population was only of about 20 percent in 1982. In 2000, the 5th census recorded an urban population of about 36 percent. In other words, one third of the population lived in cities, compared to 50 percent today. Internal migration is happening on a massive scale. According to the 6th census China’s migrant population reached about 260 million by 2010. In the next two decades, nearly 350 million Chinese people are expected to migrate to urban areas, a number that exceeds the current total population of the United States. Such speed and scale in migration is unprecedented in human history and places China at the forefront of a rapid global urban transformation.

Various countries have followed different approaches to urbanisation with varying degrees of success. In some cases, urbanisation has boosted economic growth and social integration. In others, urbanisation has created bottlenecks and imbalances. Urbanisation is a complex change process with inter-connected issues related to political, legal, economic, social and cultural spheres. Naturally, these issues need to be well anticipated and addressed in a multi-disciplinary and coordinated way. As a strong advocate of human development, UNDP believes that the ultimate goal of development is to create an environment where individuals can lead long, healthy and productive lives. Urbanisation should serve this objective.

As urbanisation increases, China will face pressures on several fronts such as the efficient use of natural and energy resources, the development of urban governance systems, employment, transportation, housing and access to basic social services, to mention a few. The way China addresses urbanisation challenges will not only shape its future national economic development – it will shape its human development trajectory for the 21st Century.

Because of the importance of these issues, UNDP and its Chinese partners have decided that the next China National Human Development Report will centre on the theme of “Sustainable and Liveable Cities”. As UNDPs flagship report, our efforts will be focused on two main questions: how can we make China’s cities more liveable, and how can we ensure that citizens better enjoy the achievements of urban growth. To answer these questions, the report will explore the current urban transformation in China from the perspective of human development. It will look at international practices and makes recommendations and projections for the future based on the key areas of China’s urban transformation that will directly affect the people. The report is currently in the initial stages of drafting and is due to be launched at the end of this year, and I am very pleased to see that many of the specialists and experts who have contributed to this report are with us today. I am also confident that today’s discussions will shed further light on key issues raised in the report.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s forum is held alongside a UNDP-China programme called “Capacity Building in Promoting Social Inclusion for Migrant Workers and Their Families”. This programme has been developed in recognition of the fact that a significant number of China’s urban population consists of rural migrant workers and their families. In its efforts to promote the social inclusion for these migrants, helping them enjoy an equal access to public services, through both policy improvement and practice innovation, UNDP has worked with government ministries like the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Civil Affairs, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, academic institutions and non-governmental organisations (Sentence structure revised). This is a key issue that impacts greatly on human development and we are happy to know from our national partners that many of the recommendations made by our programme studies have been well reflected in the recent national plans, strategies, and policies. This afternoon, my colleague will give a more detailed account of our work in this area in the parallel session.

As stated in the Working Report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao to the recently concluded National People Congress, China is now entering the “deeper waters” of reforms. Reforms around urbanisation will be crucial for China’s long-term prosperity and stability, and UNDP is privileged to have developed cooperation with the China Centre for Urban Development to contribute to China’s urbanisation strategies. I am also particularly encouraged by the presence of so many decision makers and practitioners at all levels here, as well as the numerous top Chinese and international scholars providing valuable insights into the challenges of China’s urbanisation process, identifying the best strategies to combine harmonious and successful urbanisation and human development for all.

Thank you for your attention, and my best wishes for the success of the forum.