State news agency Xinhua recently reported that taking into account local governments’ current urban expansion plans, there could be enough housing in China for 3.4 billion people by 2030 — which seems a tad excessive.
According to a 2015 survey, 56.1% of Chinese live in urban areas. The 13th Five Year Plan, announced earlier this year by the central government, has set a target of 60% urbanization by 2020, meaning that an additional 100 million people would have to be moved from the countryside to urban areas by the end of this decade.
While the mobilization of 100 million people (more than the population of Vietnam) in a mere 5 years may seem difficult enough, local and provincial governments have set even loftier goals. According to incomplete data from the National Development and Reform Committee, as of May 2016, more than 3,500 county-level new urban areas are planned by local governments. Taken all together, the new urban areas would be able to house over 3.4 billion people.
According to Bloomberg, Hu Gang, the chief of Southern China City Planning Society, writes in the report: “3.4 billion people is about half of the world population. The plans made by the local governments are absolutely unreasonable.”
Wang Yukai, a professor from Chinese Academy of Governance, also expresses his concern in the Xinhua report: “China’s population will continue to remain stagnant with the declining birth rate. We won’t find enough people to fill up the residential zones.”
The situation is particularly not looking good for mid-size and small cities. The recently published China State Urbanization Report 2015 claims that prefecture-level cities attract more than 70% of migrant workers, while small townships and counties only get less than 10% of the share. “There’s fewer opportunities for work and very little social mobility in small towns”, reasons a migrant worker surnamed Zhang from Shandong province. To solve this problem, the Chinese government has begun announcing population caps for its most attractive cities.
Many mid-level cities are not only having difficulty drawing in workers from the countryside, but also keeping hold of their own residents. For example, Shaxian, a county in Fujian province has seen a quarter of its population move to major cities for better employment opportunities. Meanwhile, real estate prices have dropped by 50% and many newly-constructed apartment complexes remain empty. “We are not going to reach our set urbanization goal in 2030. In fact, I would be happy if we don’t have anymore population loss,” Shaxian’s City Planning Bureau chief told reporters.
Of course, urbanization planning is also a business for local governments who generate revenue by selling the rights to state-owned land to real estate developers. Many local and provincial governments, incapable of meeting the taxation quota set by the central government due to declining exports and Xi Jinping’s supply side economic reform, are forced to turn their attention to real estate. Therefore, excessive urban planning, though prohibited by the central government, still continues to proliferate throughout the country.
China’s population is currently estimated to be around 1.377 billion people — a growing and alarming percentage of that is elderly. Even with recent changes to its controversial One Child Policy, many analysts believe that China is still demographically screwed. One scholar estimates that by the end of the century, China’s population could be as low as 600 million people.
Which leaves lots of room for more dystopian music videos.