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Cablegate: Hukou Reform in Yunnan: Big Talk, Little Action

VZCZCXRO1802
RR RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHCN #0292/01 3480954
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140954Z DEC 07
FM AMCONSUL CHENGDU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2696
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 3263

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENGDU 000292

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM AND EB
NSC FOR CHRISTINA COLLINS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ELAB PGOV SOCI CH
SUBJECT: HUKOU REFORM IN YUNNAN: BIG TALK, LITTLE ACTION

REF: CHENGDU 129

CHENGDU 00000292 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Southwest China's Yunnan Province recently
announced it would soon abolish the distinction between urban
and rural household registrations (hukou), which if true might
lead to dramatic changes in the province's migration patterns.
However, financial requirements (announced with far less
fanfare) put such changed status out of reach of all but the
richest of rural migrants. Meanwhile, Yunnan's rather unique
pattern of rural-urban migration continues: despite high rates
of rural poverty, cultural influences keep many on the land,
especially in minority areas, and discontent appears to be
relatively low. End summary.

---------------------------------------------
A DRAMATIC ANNOUNCEMENT
---------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Reports in late October indicated that Yunnan would
move quickly to "abolish" the distinction between rural and
urban hukous. See for example
http://wwww.gokunming.com/en/blog/item.php?bl og_id=414 (English)
and http://hi.people.com.cn/2007/10/25/340925.htm l (Chinese).
In one press statement, Yunnan Public Security Deputy Director
Yan Shangzhi claimed that Yunnan's hukou reform was the "most
thorough" of all of the 13 provinces and municipalities in China
engaged in hukou reform.

3. (SBU) Congenoff recently traveled to Yunnan's provincial
capital of Kunming to meet with academics and Public Security
Bureau (PSB) officials on the hukou reform issue.
Unfortunately, the Yunnan PSB cancelled Congenoff's meeting
after arrival in Kunming, calling it "inconvenient." Congenoff
was nevertheless able to meet with academics at the Yunnan
Academy of Social Sciences (YASS) and to speak with rural
migrants in Kunming.

--------------------------------------------- -
BUT LITTLE CHANGE EXPECTED
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (SBU) Asked about the implications of the reforms, YASS
Sociological Research Institute Director Mr. Qiao Hengrui was
quick to dispel expectations of dramatic change. Although he
confirmed that under the new regulations a change to an urban
hukou was theoretically possible, he added the important caveat
that applicants must satisfy two conditions. First, they must
prove that they own a residence in an urban area. Second, they
must furnish proof of "adequate and stable" income, an undefined
standard. Qiao said that "there was no easy way" for any
migrant to meet these requirements, especially when the vast
majority of rural migrants were poorly educated, and working in
menial jobs. He strongly disagreed with the statement that
Yunnan's changes were the "most thorough" of all areas engaged
in hukou reform.

5. (SBU) Qiao expressed the opinion that, with such high
standards, the new regulations would be of little or no help in
addressing problems associated with the province's urban-rural
divide: differences in job opportunities, social benefits,
health care, and education. He said that it would not be
possible to implement "real" hukou reform until these
differences were addressed through other means, such as by
raising the level of rural economic development and the quality
of rural social services.

6. (SBU) Asked about the differences in rural migration patterns
between Yunnan and other provinces, Qiao and YASS Rural
Development Institute Director Mr. Zhang Yaqiao agreed that
Yunnan's farmers were much less likely to leave the countryside
than farmers in other areas of China. One big reason, they
said, was cultural: a deep attachment among Yunnan's farmers to
their hometowns and farms, however poor. Another reason was
Yunnan's balmy climate, which they claimed made it hard for
local farmers to adjust to life elsewhere. And a third reason
was the high proportion of minorities in Yunnan, who they said
would have an especially difficult time adjusting to life in
Han-dominated cities. (Note: According to provincial web sites,
about six million of Yunnan's total population of roughly 45
million are migrants, or about 13 percent, a figure
significantly lower than Sichuan's figure of about 21 percent.
According to central government statistics, around 25 percent of
Yunnan's population lives below the local poverty line of 958
RMB (USD 128) in annual income. End note.) Zhang claimed that
only Shanxi Province saw a lower migration figure than Yunnan.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
EXPECTATIONS ON THE STREET: LOW
--------------------------------------------- ---------

CHENGDU 00000292 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) In lieu of the cancelled PSB meeting, Congenoff visited
a day labor market in Kunming to talk to migrant workers. All
turned out to be from rural areas of southern Sichuan Province,
and they claimed that most migrant laborers in Kunming came from
Sichuan, Guizhou, or Han areas of northern Yunnan. All were
looking for construction work, ranging from completely unskilled
to trades such as carpentry and plastering.

8. (SBU) One 35 year-old migrant from the Yibin area (in
southern Sichuan, adjacent to Kunming) said that he had heard of
the possibility of hukou reform, but said "it was a matter of
having the right connections." Claiming that he would need at
least 300,000 RMB (USD 40,000) to buy a residence in Kunming, he
said that meeting such a qualification would be impossible on
his current income of 20 to 30 RMB per day (USD 2.67 to 4.00).
To the nods of bystanders, he said, "We have to accept our
fate." He denied that he had any desire to return home, saying
life in Kunming was far better than what he had left behind -
better weather and the relative abundance of job opportunities
were key factors.

--------------------------------------------- -----------------
COMMENT: LITTLE PRESSURE FOR CHANGE
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

9. (SBU) Despite the initial excitement generated by what seems
to have been an overly enthusiastic press release, prospects for
meaningful hukou reform in Yunnan appear to be well behind those
of other pilot areas such as Chongqing (reftel). But as the
YASS academics described, Yunnan is a somewhat unique province,
with a diverse culture, a deeper attachment to the land, and
lower rates of migration generally. As long as the local
economy continues to generate low-skilled construction and
service sector jobs, it seems in the short run at least popular
discontent over urban-rural divides is unlikely to reach crisis
levels.
BOUGHNER

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