BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping warned against government over-promising on social welfare amid a push to achieve “common prosperity” by mid-century, while demanding progress on a long-awaited property tax that could help reduce wealth gaps.
China, still an avowedly socialist country, has vowed to reduce inequality after years of breakneck growth while stressing that people should still work hard to create wealth.
In an essay in the ruling Communist Party journal Qiushi, published by the official Xinhua news agency on Friday, Xi also called for China to “vigorously and steadily advance” legislation for a property tax.
China has mulled such a tax for over a decade but faced resistance from stakeholders including local governments themselves, who fear it would erode property values or trigger a market sell-off.
Such a tax could curb rampant speculation in the housing market, which is currently under intense global scrutiny as developer China Evergrande Group (3333.HK) struggles with a debt crisis.
Xi also warned against government over-promising on social welfare amid a push to achieve what he called “common prosperity” by mid-century.
“Common prosperity” is a broad policy drive to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It has involved a wave of regulatory crackdowns on excesses in industries including technology and private tuition.
China became an economic powerhouse after reforms unleashed last century under a hybrid policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, but it also deepened inequality, especially between urban and rural areas, a divide that threatens social stability.
The gap between people’s income and consumption should be narrowed to a “reasonable range” by mid-century, Xi said.
But Xi also said that the government should not make promises it could not deliver on and avoid the “trap” of “welfarism” and helping the lazy.
“The government cannot take care of everything,” he said.
While the “ossification” of social classes should be prevented, so should “lying flat”, said Xi, referring to a trend among China’s youth to embrace passivity and step back from intense competition in the world’s second largest economy.
“Some developed countries…due to their social systems, have not resolved the problem of common prosperity, and the disparity between the rich and the poor has become more and more serious,” he said.
Xi also said that salaries of grassroots-level civil servants and workers at state-owned enterprises should be increased.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Stella Qiu and Yew Lun Tian; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)