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Full transcript of the State Council policy briefing on April 29

Updated: Apr 29,2016 7:19 PM

Xi Yanchun (host):

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the State Council’s policy briefing. Today’s policy briefing mainly focuses on strengthening education development in central and western regions and promoting social fairness. We are glad to have Chen Shun, assistant Minister of Education, to brief us on this issue.

We are glad to have Tian Xuebin, vice Minister of Water Resources, to give us an overview on the rules on farmland and water conservancy. Wang Aiguo, head of the department of Rural Water Resources at the Ministry of Water Resources, also attends today’s policy briefing. Now, Mr Chen Shun, please.

Chen Shun:

Good morning, ladies, gentlemen and reporters. I’m very glad to attend today’s policy briefing to introduce the situation of education development in central and western regions. On April 27, the State Council passed an opinion on accelerating education development in central and western regions, and related background material has been handed out to everyone. I want to give you a brief introduction on the draft background and main contents of the document.

Owing to natural, historical, economic and social reasons, China’s eastern, central and western regions have a large gap in education development. To narrow the gap, the government adopted a series of major measures. These include:

We adopted the plan to popularize nine-years of compulsory education and eliminate youth illiteracy. And we also try to improve school conditions through renovation of school buildings.

We will build a strong education faculty through offering free education for normal school students and special posts for rural teachers.

To help students from impoverished families, we will exempt tuition and miscellaneous fees and textbook fees, offer subsidies for boarding students and launch a student nutrition improvement program.

To ensure the normal running of schools, the government also established a mechanism to guarantee the implementation of compulsory education.

Chen Shun:

The implementation of these favorable policies will greatly enhance central and western regions’ ability in running schools. I In general, the target of narrowing the education gap is far from completed. Central and western areas, especially in border areas, ethnic minority areas, poverty-stricken areas, and old revolutionary areas still have difficulty with education development. If we don’t take special measures to reinforce support, these regions will lag behind and it will be hard to change the situation in a short period of time.

The development of education in central and western regions is the key to achieving the modernization of education. It is also where the difficulty lies. In view of this situation, the Ministry of Education, together with the Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, drafted the opinion on accelerating education development in central and western regions. In view that major problems for education development existing at all levels in central and western regions, the opinion proposed 150 specific programs and projects to ensure that the least developed schools in central and western regions can meet the basic standard for operations within several years.

The opinion is actually an action plan, by adjusting the allocation of resources in the most improvised regions and schools, to ensure that by 2020 education development in central and western regions is on par with the level for building a moderately well-off society in all aspects. The implementation of this opinion is another major policy for supporting education in central and western regions. Then, I’d like to answer your questions. Thank you.

Xi Yanchun:

Thanks for the introduction by Mr Chen, let’s welcome Mr Tian Xuebin.

Tian Xuebin:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today’s policy briefing and thanks for your longtime support of water conservancy issues. The State Council executive meeting on April 27 passed the rules on farmland and water conservancy to provide legal support for fundamentally changing the backward situation. I will give a brief introduction of the rules.

China has a long tradition of building farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects, and well-known ancient projects such as Dujiangyan Irrigation System and Zhengguo Canal brought benefits to the Chinese people. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the government continued to build many irrigation and water conservancy projects. By the end of 2014, China has built about 98,000 water reservoirs, 7,700 middle and large-scale irrigation areas, and more than 20 million small-scale farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects; farmland’s effective irrigation area has been increased to 968 million mu (645,000 square kilometers), from 239 million mu when China was established; total grain output increased to 607.1 billion kilograms from 113.2 billion kilograms. Irrigated farmland, which takes up more than half of the total farmland, produced about 75 percent of grain and more than 90 percent of commercial crops. Farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects have contributed greatly to the country’s comprehensive agricultural productivity growth, modern agriculture development and national grain safety.

China has attached great importance to the development of farmland irrigation and water conservancy. The fundamental way to guarantee national grain safety and solve grain supply problems for all Chinese is to promote farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects. However, due to historical reasons, our country has done far less in this aspect. Thus currently and in later periods, we will face tough tasks. We need to make great efforts to overcome our weaknesses in this aspect. We must pay attention to large-scale irrigation projects in key areas, but the small irrigation systems in rural farmlands cannot be ignored. Currently, China’s water conservancy construction systems for organization, investment, planning, maintenance and utilization are not enough. Lack of related laws has limited the formation of a long-term effective mechanism for the construction of farmland irrigation and water conservancy projects. Based on the longtime practices and local laws, China made the rules on farmland and water conservancy to improve the basic system and long-term mechanism for farmland irrigation and water conservancy and provide legal guarantee. It is necessary and also urgent.

Following is the general content of the rules:

First is to propose the basic principles of farmland and water conservancy work. The principles are government-led, scientific planning, tailored measures to suit local situations, water saving and high efficiency, and combined construction and management work.

Second is to set up a planning system. Farmland irrigation and water conservancy planning should consider local economic and social development levels, balance of water and land resources, and suggestions from the grass-roots level and farmers.

Third is to strengthen the management of irrigation and water conservancy project construction. Governments at or above county level should coordinate the project construction and the construction company should be responsible for the quality of the projects. Related departments and local governments should enhance supervision over these projects.

Fourth is to improve the irrigation and water conservancy project maintenance mechanism. Based on the different situations, a maintenance body and maintenance responsibilities will be clarified.

Fifth is to regulate the irrigation and drainage management. We need to promote total-quantity control and quota management for farmland irrigation water, reasonably fix the water price, monitor water quality, control the pollution of water resources and promote water-saving irrigation technology and measures.

Sixth is to provide related support for the irrigation projects. Government investment and social investment should be jointly used for the construction of farmland and water conservancy projects and private capital should be encouraged to invest in the construction of these projects. The government should support the construction by providing financial credits, setting up basic irrigation and water conservancy service systems and training. Besides that, it also stipulated certain legal responsibilities for certain illegal actions.

In the next step, the Ministry of Water Resources will work with other related departments to implement the rules.

That is all, thanks.

Xi Yanchun:

Thanks for your introduction, Mr Tian. Please identify yourself before your questions, thank you.

China Radio International:

My question is about farmland and water conservancy. As we know, in recent years, some small projects were faced with problems in inattentive management. Will the rules on farmland and water conservancy help solve such problems, and what kind of role will they play?

Tian Xuebin:

I will take this question. The question you have asked is indeed a prominent problem. For this issue, the rules clearly stipulates that great importance will be attached to both construction and management of farmland and water conservancy. County-level governments will be responsible for the management of farmland and water conservancy, regulating the management entity and the budget and providing legal guarantees for such management.

Next we will stick to the principle of equal importance for construction and management and further strengthen management and protection efforts. Measures will be taken in four aspects:

First, stipulate a clear management entity. We will draw lessons from previous experiences in farmland and water conservancy and explore modes of graded responsibility and categorized management. Large and medium farmland and water conservancy projects will be managed by professional organizations. Small projects will be managed by entities in accordance with property rights. Management responsibility of the new projects will be allocated in line with the regulation of “setting up mechanism before construction”.

Second, fulfill management and protection responsibility. Through clear stipulation of rights of management and use, a system will be set up to allocate clear management and protection responsibilities. The move is aimed at stimulating farmer organizations to participate in farmland and water conservancy projects management and protection.

Third, guarantee a management and protection budget. A reasonable mechanism regarding management and protection budget will be established through national subsidies, water fee accounting, and common share by the project owner and user, which ensures the project will be finished and a long-term beneficial management is established.

Fourth, further improve grass-roots management and services. Efforts should be made to further improve the organization and system regarding farmland and water conservancy and implement grass-roots regulation and management, and build social and professional service teams to provide guidance and technical support to project management and protection.

That’s all. Thank you.

Economic Daily:

My question is for Mr Chen.

There are many schools in the rural areas of central and western China that are in pretty difficult conditions. Many of the venues accommodate just one teacher and one student. How should we run these mini-sized schools?

In addition, it is teachers that are most needed in schools in the central and western regions. However, the pay for rural teachers in these regions are unattractive for any teacher, let alone good ones, to stay there.

So is there any plan to raise the pay and benefits for teachers in regions with adverse conditions? Salaries even higher than urban teachers would encourage teachers to serve in rural areas in central and western regions.

Thank you.

Chen Shun:

Thank you for your concern on this issue.

We define mini-sized schools as having fewer than 100 students.

There are more than 90,000 teaching venues scattered in central and western regions, educating more than 4 million students.

The operation of these teaching venues is key to guaranteeing a basic education in these regions. To that end, the opinions raised a series of measures:

First, carefully determine the location of necessary teaching venues to ensure that rural students can study in the most convenient location.

Second, set up standards. Mini-sized schools and teaching venues will be run under national standards, as well as standards issued by local governments.

Third, supplement resources. Schools will receive supplemental help to fill gaps in resources in accordance with the standard.

The most important measure is to cover all the schools with digital education resources.

Fourth, complete the curriculum. The biggest problem faced by mini-sized schools is hiring music, sports and art teachers. The opinion explicitly stipulated that all national mandated subjects should be properly taught.

The goal is to teach these courses at centrally located schools and have other teaching venues follow the same syllabus and progress.

Fifth, ensure education quality. We will push forward multiple measures to ensure teaching quality at these venues equal to regular schools.

Many people are concerned with the pay for teachers, the question you raised just now. Actually, the plan to support rural teachers has already been released and gradually implemented, which includes extra subsidies for teachers in remote regions.

China Daily:

My question goes to Mr Tian. As we know, a large amount of water is used in agriculture, and the broad irrigation phenomenon still exists in farmlands of some areas. We have noticed that, in the rules on farmland and water conservancy, it is a clear mandate to save water and preserve the ecological environment. What are the constraints and difficulties in the development of water-saving irrigation? What measures will be taken in the next step? Thank you!

Tian Xuebin:

It is an important aspect of water conservancy work. The principle of water conservancy work in the new era, put forward by President Xi Jinping, regards water saving as a priority. During the 12th Five-Year Plan period, the water resources department vigorously promoted water-saving irrigation along with other related departments. The total area for efficient water saving irrigation increased by more than 100 million mu (66,666.7 square kilometers) in the nation. The effective coefficient of irrigation water increased to 0.536 from 0.5, and remarkable achievements were made in water-saving irrigation. However, some problems still exist, mainly in the following aspects.

First, project standards are relatively low, and the task for developing water-saving irrigation is still quite arduous. Second, the proportion of farmland area for efficient water-saving irrigation, such as spray irrigation and trickle irrigation, is low. Third, the water-saving system, such as total-quantity control and quota management, hasn’t been implemented universally. The rewards and punishment system hasn’t been set up completely. Fourth, water-saving technologies and standardized service level should be improved.

For the next steps, comprehensive measures will be taken to promote the development of water-saving irrigation. These measures are mainly as follows: first, water-saving through projects. Accelerate water-saving equipment renovation in large irrigation areas, and improve the efficiency of water use; the new projects must meet the standards of water-saving irrigation technology; promote the renovation of modernized, ecological and water-saving demonstration irrigation areas. Second is technological water-saving. Speed up the research, integration and transformation of water-saving irrigation technology and equipment; vigorously promote advanced irrigation technologies, such as sprinklers, micro-spray irrigation, and low pressure pipes for transporting water; enhance the application of informed measures; implement on a regional scale efficient water-saving irrigation actions. Third, water-saving through management. Promote the total-quantity control and quota management for farmland irrigation water; enhance irrigation drainage experiments; implement a scientific irrigation system and combine water-saving irrigation with agricultural machinery and technologies to improve the utilization rate of water, fertilizer and pesticide. Fourth, make policies to save water. Implement the strictest water resource management system; speed up promoting water rights allocation, water price reform, and water rights trade; form a water-saving reward and punishment system, and enhance water use supervision and inspection.

People’s Daily:

My question is for Mr Chen. In the central and western regions of China, especially in rural areas, one may face great difficulties in running a kindergarten, indicating that in China’s rural areas, qualified teachers for preschool education are still too few in number. So I would like to ask Mr Chen what’s the solution according to the opinion?

Chen Shun:

Thanks for your question. Preschool education in China has developed quickly in the past few years. Over the past five years, the gross enrollment ratio of kindergartens with three-year preschool education has increased by 20 percent. Along with the leapfrogging development, we confronted a prominent problem — the lagging teacher resource allocation.

The opinion puts forward the following four measures to enhance teacher allocation for preschool education. First, step up training and expand the recruitment of students with a preschool education major in universities and colleges, especially normal universities.

Second, speed up supplementing preschool teachers, and take a variety of measures to attract outstanding individuals to pursue careers in preschool education. In areas with abundant compulsory education teacher resources, for instance, some of them can teach preschool children after being trained and achieving the qualification.

Third, implement the training of all staff, including child-minders, to ensure they achieve the qualification.

Fourth, encourage voluntary teaching in underdeveloped areas. The government encourages people with rich pre-school education experience and professional knowledge to engage in the volunteer service, and be organized into practice circuits of preschool education in rural areas.

China National Radio:

I’d like to ask Mr Tian a question. The rules on farmland and water conservancy makes clear that the agricultural water price will be decided by the cost of supply, and the State Council released a document aimed at reforming the agricultural water price earlier. So what are the next measures?

Tian Xuebin:

Good question, which involves a major reform. Mr Wang could answer your question.

Wang Aiguo:

The State Council released an opinion on reforming the agricultural water price in January, which plans to form an agricultural water price mechanism in 10 years, and encourages regions with favorable conditions to speed up the efforts. To achieve the goal, the Ministry of Water Resource will improve related measures and promote the reform with the NDRC, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Agriculture, and we will take the following actions:

First, to improve irrigation and drainage facilities and build measuring facilities. At present, many farmland projects lack seepage prevention designs, and result in overuse or waste, which is not good for controlling the overall water use. Then we will build measuring facilities, and pave the way for the implementation of our pricing policy according to water supply.

Second, to form a reasonable water price mechanism. The agriculture water price involves the interests of many parties, so it should be differentiated for different regions and different categories of crops. This will not only promote water-saving, but also guarantee water supply for agricultural products, and will not increase farmers’ burden.

Third, to establish a new system of accurate subsidies and water-saving rewards. The funds will be raised from multiple channels, and will be granted to farmers whose water use does not exceed the set quota and farmers who mainly grow grains. The rewards will mainly target those who make water-saving efforts and adjust their crop proportions.

Guangming Daily:

My question goes to Mr Chen. Due to geographical conditions and lack of economic development, there are no high schools in some central and western regions. It is a heavy burden for some families to go to high school. So how will high school education be popularized?

Chen Shun:

Thank you. It is one target of the 13th Five-Year Plan to popularize high school education. By 2020, high school enrollment rate should reach over 90 percent. Currently the number is 87 percent. The key is to increase the general high school admission rate in poor central and western regions. The guideline lays out the following tasks.

First is to build, rebuild and expand ordinary high schools in places where there are few existing ones.

Second is to build around 1,000 high schools in the countryside. The current distribution of high schools in central and western regions is around 700 in towns and counties and about 300 in rural-urban fringe areas. We need to improve the conditions, faculty and education quality at these schools.

Third is to build secondary vocational schools. High school education offers two options: one is ordinary high school, and the other is secondary vocational school. In the next few years, we need to further improve the education quality of secondary vocational schools in the region. When our children finish compulsory education, they can go to secondary vocational schools if they are not eligible for ordinary high schools. This way they can learn some professional skills before entering society.

Fourth is to give specific financial aid. Secondary vocational education is free. Meanwhile, students in difficult economic condition are exempt from high school tuition and fees.

These are the major measures to ensure the improvement of high school admissions rate in central and western regions. Thank you.

Xinhua News Agency:

I have a question for Mr Tian. Currently, there are many funding sources and channels for farmland irrigation and water conservancy. But to some extent, the funding is quite scattered and does not form an effective strength. Will the rules help solve this issue?

Tian Xuebin:

This question concerns the irrigation and water conservancy fundraising through various channels, which has been stipulated in the rules. Now, let Mr Wang answer this question in detail.

Wang Aiguo:

The CPC Central Committee and the State Council attach great importance to the irrigation and water conservancy - a livelihood project - with various support. There are many investment channels. On the one hand it helps to promote the development of irrigation and water conservancy and on the other hand, due to multi-investment channels and lack of planning and regulations and non-unified building standards of various departments, there exist ineffective use of these funds. To help various departments form concerted efforts to boost the irrigation and water conservancy project and make effective use of such funds, the rules on farmland and water conservancy made several regulations regarding such issues in the following three aspects:

First, the responsibilities of the government and its different departments are clearly defined. The rules on farmland and water conservancy specify the government’s leading role in water conservancy, the role of the government at all levels, and responsibilities of all related departments, including management and supervision.

Second, overall planning is highlighted. The rules on farmland and water conservancy deal with the plan on irrigation and water conservancy with special chapters. The regulations stress that all farmland construction and water conservancy activities must comply with the approved plan and that all other plans must conform to and coordinate with the water conservancy plan.

Third, coordination between different departments is stressed. The rules on farmland and water conservancy state that the government at the county level should create annual implementation measures according to the overall plan on irrigation and water conservancy. It should also coordinate related departments and farmers in farmland and water conservancy projects to ensure efficient use of funds.

Xi Yanchun:

That’s all for today’s policy briefing. Thank you all.