By Xinhua Writer Ren Ke
BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- In his speech at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum over the weekend, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to build a system to guarantee social fairness, voicing his call at a time when China greatly needs justice and equity.
Hu said China will phase in a system to ensure a system of social equity that features equal rights, equal opportunities and equal rules -- a system that offers people equal access to development opportunities.
Observers noted that Hu made the remarks ahead of the 18th national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), during which the new central leadership will be elected, and many believe his call for equity signals what will be a key aspect in China's development for years to come.
His words quickly made headlines in China's major websites and prompted wide discussion, as social equity has become more important than ever as well as a key for tackling most of China's current domestic challenges following the country's decades of rapid development.
If someone only saw the metropolises of Beijing or Shanghai, he might say China is a well-developed country. However, that is far from a true picture of China.
The country is now facing various challenges involving regional imbalances, a widening income gap among its people and inequalities in many aspects of people's lives.
Hu's words were spoken as controversial news was breaking. Journalists learned that children in Macheng City in central China's Hubei Province have to carry their own desks to school due to budget deficiencies, as claimed by the local government. The picture of children carrying desks spread rapidly on Twitter-like microblogging services, arousing public sympathy and anger.
And while these children carry their own desks to school, students in China's big cities sit in air-conditioned classrooms, learning English phonics through PowerPoint presentations on advanced laptops. From the starting point, the two groups of children have different resources that will afford them different future opportunities.
The two sets of students studying under vastly different circumstances represent a microcosm of contemporary China. In fact, due to imbalanced resource distribution, a large percentage of people are facing difficulties in their livelihoods, especially in education, healthcare, housing and other areas, while the rich and privileged, as well as people in most developed areas, enjoy better social services.
The imbalanced distribution of resources among regions and people has hindered the growth of domestic demand and the economic restructuring. Furthermore, it has undermined social stability and harmony, as inequality leads to many social conflicts each year.
Official data show that the average disposable income for Chinese urban residents in 2011 was 21,810 yuan (3,435 U.S. dollars), while the average net income for rural residents stood at just 6,977 yuan.
Meanwhile, the Gini coefficient, an index reflecting the rich-poor gap, in rural China stood at 0.3949 last year, nearing the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations.
In his speech, President Hu also stressed equity in rights and rules. In the past few years, Chinese media have exposed quite a number of scandals in which officials abused their power to help their sons and daughters obtain government jobs, depriving other young people of the same opportunities. Such scandals have never failed to arouse public anger, and were often followed with official investigations and punishments handed down to the offending officials.
The Chinese government has recognized the importance of equity and has already taken measures to address the issue. The country is investing more in education, especially in less-developed areas. A comprehensive healthcare system covering over 90 percent of the population has initially been established. The government is now considering reforms of the income distribution system to ease the income gap.
In the meantime, experts are optimistic about China's political reform, as President Hu said in an important speech on July 23, which is considered a keynote address for the upcoming CPC national congress, that authorities will safeguard social justice and equity and ensure that people enjoy broad rights and freedoms in accordance with the law.
China has succeeded in making a bigger cake, and the problem now is how to divide it more equally -- and Hu's remarks show that China is moving in the right direction for offering everyone a slice.
Special Report: President Hu attends 20th APEC informal economic leaders' meeting