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China to Streamline Bureaucracy - 2003-03-06

China says it plans to streamline its bureaucracy. Officials say the reforms are designed to help the government increase its transparency and efficiency as the country moves toward a free-market system.

China State Council Secretary-General Wang Zhongyu unveiled the government's sweeping restructuring plan before the National People's Congress. Mr. Wang says the reforms will help China adapt better to a market economy, honor its commitments to the World Trade Organization, and abolish some relics of the command economy.

China will merge several existing economic agencies, such as the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the State Economic and Trade Commission, into one commerce ministry.

Mr. Wang says the government will create a banking regulatory commission, which will be separate from the central bank, to increase supervision and transparency. He says a state asset management commission will oversee reforms of state-owned enterprises.

He says a new food and drug administration will help improve the safety of food and health products. Also, the State Family Planning Commission will become a different agency with increased emphasis on research of population issues. China is struggling to contain rising unemployment caused largely by economic modernization. Hundreds of old, inefficient state companies are collapsing and laying off millions of workers.

Minister of State Development Planning Zeng Peiyan said in his report to the congress that the urban jobless rate this year is expected to rise to 4.5 percent. Many economists say the real unemployment rate is far higher than official statistics, in part because it does not include migrant job seekers and millions of farmers forced off the land.

Mr. Zeng says employment prospects are grim and the government aims to create eight-million new jobs for urban residents. It also is trying to increase rural incomes, which remain stagnant. He added that trade growth is likely to rise seven-percent this year, a substantial decrease from last year's double-digit growth.