How to Manage Hundreds of Millions of Urban Migrants: China's Police Weigh In

The Public Security Ministry, China’s police force, is working with 11 other government bodies on drafting guidelines for reforming the thorny hukou system with a target for full implementation by 2020, reported the China Daily on Dec. 18.

That’s good news. Real progress on liberalizing China’s restrictive residency rules won’t happen unless China’s cops get involved and sign off on any loosening. A Chinese labor scholar explained this to me in 2012, the last time optimism surged that real hukou reform was being considered.

As China attempts to manage the world’s largest population flow, with several hundred million additional farmers expected to move to cities in the coming years, security and stability—what the Chinese call weiwen—will be paramount, the Chinese scholar said. Concerns range from the mundane—managing rush hour traffic—to the more serious—preventing crime and social unrest. And before those rural residents make the move, China first must deal with an estimated 260 million migrants that are already in the cities.

China’s top leaders announced the creation of a new national security committee at the end of the party plenum meeting in November; it is likely to deal with external threats while also focusing on maintaining stability as Beijing attempts to carry out sweeping economic reforms, including amending the household registration system.

The concern with security explains why policymakers have so far made it clear that such mega-cities as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou won’t be open to the flood of rural migrants for years to come. “Not every city and town should grow into a giant,” said a statement released after a top leadership conference on urbanization closed last week.

“The statement promised to fully remove hukou restrictions in towns and small cities, to gradually ease restrictions in mid-sized cities and to set reasonable conditions for settling in big cities, all while strictly controlling the population of mega-cities,” the China Daily reported.

Beijing and Guangzhou have seen yearly increases of 400,000 residents over the past decade, “putting tremendous pressure on the environment—for example, by dramatically increasing traffic,” the report noted.

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