China’s Five Year Plans: Importance and Implementation

May 30th, 2011 by

China’s Five Year Plans (FYP) are important documents that China uses to direct the overall goals of the governance of the country. They are like blueprints for economic and social growth and industrial planning in key sectors. Although most people refer to the FYPs as a single document, in actually they represent a complex collection of government documents, including previously-implemented development plans and hundreds of policy initiatives, all of which are constantly being revised during the five year circle that they are meant to guide. As a kind of summarizing document, the FYP serves as a overarching vision of the state of the country. Studying the documents relating to the most current FYP is important not only to government officials, legislators, and state-run enterprises; the content of the FYPs will influence the amount of government spending in certain sectors and framing one’s goals within those of the country is prudent for private business, Chinese and international, as well.

The 12th Five Year Plan was discussed at the Fourth Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress. Source:

The first FYP was made for the period 1953-1957, so 2011 is the first year in the 12th cycle of FYPs. In the previous few months, there was much discussion on the implementation success of the 11th FYP, which will influence the content and implementation techniques for the 12th FYP. Since this blog address environmental issues, I will try to speak about the FYPs’ implementation as they relate to China’s environment.

The implementation of the last year of the 11th FYP (2006-2010), was discussed in depth on March 5, 2011 at the Fourth Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress and a report (available in English) was prepared by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The summary included six points that were reported on:

  1. Steady and rapid economic growth was maintained
  2. The agricultural foundation was consolidated
  3. Economic restructuring was carried out vigorously
  4. Significant progress was made in energy conservation and environmental protection and in responding to climate change.
  5. Reform and opening up were further intensified.
  6. Efforts to ensure and improve the people s wellbeing were comprehensively strengthened.

Of these six, three are particularly relevant to the environment. The “agricultural foundation” that was consolidated in the second point refers to the three issues of rural areas, agricultural production, and farmers’ livelihoods. Water conservation is a big issue in agriculture. Currently, China not only needs to worry about food production for a rapidly growing urban population, but it also has to think about water conservation practices that will make food production more sustainable with the highest possible efficiency. In 2010, according to the NDRC report, the Central Government successfully formulated and carried out policies to intensify the construction of small and medium-sized water conservancy facilities. In addition, because public works in rural areas is generally also lagging behind urban areas, the living conditions of the rural population was also a big issue in 2010. The NDRC reported stated that in 2010 safe drinking water was provided to an additional 61.9 million rural residents than in 2009.

Volunteers test water quality in a rural area. In 2010, safe drinking water was provided to an additional 61.9 million rural residents than in 2009.

The second point that is of interest is economic restructuring. This point relates to the industrial and infrastructure plans that support the economic growth policies included in the first point. Low-efficiency “backward” production facilities were targeted for shut-down, including low capacity thermal power plants, steel mills, iron foundries, cement plants, plate glass plants, and paper mills. Shutting down small industries will allow the central government to better regulate contaminant emissions from industry, and to ensure that growth is happening in the most efficient way possible. In addition, this section also reported on massive infrastructural work that China accomplished during this period.

Nationwide, 4,986 kilometers of railway lines were put into operation, raising the total to 91,000; 120,000 kilometers of highways were opened to traffic, raising the total to 3.98 million; 500 kilometers of high-grade inland waterways were opened to navigation, raising the total to 10,000; 125 deepwater seaport berths were put into service, raising the total to 1,774; and 9 new civilian airports were put into service, raising the total to 175. Some 1.66 million kilometers of optical cables were installed, raising the total to 9.95 million kilometers; and 49.24 million broadband Internet access ports were opened up, raising the total to 188 million. We intensified the construction of key energy projects, energy bases, and storage and transportation facilities. Eleven out of 13 large coalmining bases have already reached a production capacity of 100 million tons.

To support economic restructuring, 4,986 kilometers of railway lines were put into operation in China during the 11th FYP. Some of these lines cut through environmentally sensitive areas. Photo source: Xinhua News Agency

Lastly, the point on environmental protection and energy conservation stated that all targets for energy targets and emissions reductions were met. These included installation of high-efficiency air conditioning units, and promotion of energy-efficient vehicles, and energy-saving light bulbs. The reported stated that through the implementation of 10 major national energy conservation projects, the energy equivalent of 33.1 million tons of standard coal was saved. Resource reuse was demonstrated through mineral recovery bases in urban areas. In 2010, 76.9% of urban sewage was treated, an increase of 1.6 percentage points from the previous year, and 72.5% of urban household waste was safely handled, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from 2009. Energy consumption, chemical oxygen demand, and sulfur dioxide emissions all met or exceeded the goals set by the 11th FYP during the period from 2006-2010. Several specific remediation and reforestation projects were also mentioned, including the grassland remediation, virgin forest protection projects, and remediation of long-time problem areas, such as Dianchi Lake, and Tai Lake. According to the report, implementation had positive results. Lastly in this point, climate change was mentioned. The central government effectively implemented China’s National Climate Change Program. Successes in international exchanges and cooperation for improvement in low-carbon technology was emphasized.

After summarizing the achievements of the 11th FYP and the work accomplished in 2010, there are six problems listed which are designated as “serious conflicts and problems facing domestic development”. The first problem listed is the issues relating to agriculture and rural development. Insufficient farmland and freshwater scarcity, poor water conservancy infrastructure, uncertainties over climate change, and generally low levels of agricultural science and technology will continue to be major constraints to agriculture and rural development that will have to be addressed. Another point within the six problems mentioned is that resource and environmental constraints have intensified. Energy usage and resource consumption is increasing too quickly and the level of major contaminant emission is too high. Energy-intensive and high-pollution industries are continuing to grow too quickly.

Small cement production facilities contribute to contaminant emissions and thus have been designated for shut-down by the Five Year Plans.

From the NDRC document, it is evident that there are possibly a few areas where expertise in sustainable design and green infrastructure will be very important. Civil engineering can be used in overall masterplanning to improve local hydrology in agricultural areas and water quality and supply in urban and rural areas. Energy conservation can be accomplished through applying guidelines such as those suggested by LEED in new buildings and communities. The transfer of these techniques that are more common in the United States and other developed countries to the Chinese environment is an area with an enormous amount of potential to make vast improvements.

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