Also on the cards: More blue skies, tackling social issues

A woman wearing a protective pollution mask commutes in Beijing's financial district on Feb 10, 2017.
A woman wearing a protective pollution mask commutes in Beijing's financial district on Feb 10, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

More blue skies. This was the promise that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made yesterday, after a public backlash over successive winters during which Beijing and other northern cities were blanketed in thick smog.

This and other social issues, such as poverty and education, have to be solved promptly to show that development improves people's lives, Mr Li told the opening of the annual meeting of the national Parliament.

The Communist Party wants to wean the economy off its dependence on polluting industries such as steel and coal to become more service-oriented, amid rising anger over environmental degradation.

Beijing signalled yesterday it will attack the three main causes of air pollution: industrial discharge, coal burning and vehicle emissions.

China will cut steel capacity by 50 million tonnes and coal output by more than 150 million tonnes this year. It will also shut or stop construction of coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of more than 50 million kilowatts. It will also replace coal burners with those that run on electricity and natural gas in three million households.

Officials who fail to respond forcefully to environmental violations will be held accountable, Mr Li said.

There are also extensive plans to raise the standard of living in poorer areas. China wants to build and upgrade 200,000km of roads, improve access to clean water and reliable electricity, and install fibre-optic broadband for 30,000 administrative villages by the year end.

The education system will also see significant reforms. All permanent residents in urban areas will soon have access to compulsory education, whether they have local urban household registration or not.

This will benefit children of migrant workers, who often lack such registration. This forces them to stay in their home village for an education, resulting in a generation of "left-behind children" often cared for by their grandparents.

Legislator Lee Xinrong said she was heartened by the government's plan to modernise the Chinese education system by 2030. "This year's work report emphasised the importance of greater state support for things like special needs education, which is in the spirit of Mr Li's speech to improve our education system."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Also on the cards: More blue skies, tackling social issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe