Visits to Yunnan by senior officials from Beijing are never announced before they actually take place. Because of this, it came as some surprise to rural residents in the province's northeast when the second-highest ranking person in the Chinese government, Premier Li Keqiang, came calling in person on January 23.
Li toured villages in Zhaotong Prefecture (昭通市) and spoke with families who are undergoing moves to new housing. He first stopped in Dachong Zirancun (大冲自然村), a village on the outskirts of Zhaotong City. He met outside in a small public square with people who currently live in decades-old homes, many of them made in the traditional way with mud-brick walls and wooden frames.
The owners of these houses are beset by problems limiting their upward mobility, according to state media reports. The first is that their homes are no longer adequate in an age where city dwellers have access to structurally safe dwellings, 24-hour hot water, electricity and internet. The second is that they farm "barren land [that] is no longer suitable", according to a CCTV report.
To address these deficiencies, locals are working with the provincial government not only to relocate to modern high-rises, but also arrange financing so they can own the new apartments. CCTV quoted the Premier as explaining the arrangement will work thusly:
The local government will pay half of the cost of building new houses, and villagers can get interest-free loans of up to 60,000 yuan for three years, in addition to using their own savings. The villagers are willing to take out loans, and the government should work with them to complete the relocation as soon as possible, the Premier said.
The scheme raises a number of questions. The most pressing of these is how farmers in one of Yunnan's poorest regions can expect to pay loans — interest free or not — when they are being moved off of their land and into a city. The answer, although not explicitly stated in the press, is that urban living will provide easier access to more, and more lucrative, job opportunities for those that move.
The plan is part of a larger but as yet loosely defined strategy to "raise one million people [in Yunnan] out of poverty" by the end of 2017. No budget has been released, but the undertaking encompasses ten points, including but not limited, to vocational training for some relocated families, improved access to modern utilities, the "cultivation of micro-enterprises", and the sustained development of infrastructure in rural areas.
Li also visited communities rebuilding nearby following a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that devastated Ludian County (鲁甸县) in 2014. Before leaving Yunnan, the Premier traveled to Kunming, where he toured Dounan (斗南) — Asia's largest flower market — visited students at Yunnan Normal University in the city center, and met with representatives from pharmaceutical giant Yunnan Baiyao.
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