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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 February, 2004, 17:16 GMT
China's rulers to aid farmers
A farmer uses a horse drawn plough in North China
Many farmers struggle with primitive tools and harsh conditions
China's top governing bodies have set out new policies to close the wealth gap between farmers and city dwellers, the official news service has said.

The proposals include tax cuts for China's 900 million farmers, combined with greater efforts to modernise agriculture and create rural industry.

The plan was drawn up by the cabinet-level State Council and the ruling Communist Party 's Central Committee.

They warn in it that stagnant rural earnings threaten stability and growth.

The report says the most important problem in the Chinese countryside "is that it difficult for farmers to increase their income", the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Political risks

It warns that if farmers' living standards remain stagnant for long the output of grain and other farm goods could fall.

Huawei IT and telecoms factory
The gap between urban and rural lifestyles is stark
This threatens to "constrain the growth of the rural economy and the national economy" and to hinder "the goal of building a relatively affluent society in an all-round way", the report said.

It proposes to cut agricultural taxes by 0.1% this year and to abolish the levies imposed on specific crops, except for tobacco.

The report sends a signal to Communist Party officials about the need to take peasants' rights seriously.

Farmers' protests against unfair, unaffordable and arbitrary taxes imposed by local officials are commonplace in China.

Smoothing out inequality

The report says that "the leadership of the Party should be strengthened to ensure that all policies to help farmers increase their income are implemented to the letter".

Premier Wen Jiabao has highlighted inequality in his speeches since he stepped into the job at the National People's Congress in February 2003. He has made well-publicised visits to poor districts and won popularity as a leader with the common touch.

Before becoming premier, Mr Wen was linked with measures to narrow China's wealth gap, such as the campaign to develop the poorer western provinces.

Chinese officials estimate there are about 100 million migrant workers, mostly ex-farmers, working in the cities. In the last few years, the authorities have scrapped or eased controls which put migrant workers at constant risk of arrest.

Urban incomes rose 9.3% last year, while rural incomes grew by only 4.3%, the National Statistics Bureau said.

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