Policy urges digital economy growth

2024-01-31 09:31:09China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The national drive to promote common prosperity has received fresh impetus with the central government's new action plan to bolster the digital economy to narrow the income and development gaps between different regions, groups of people and urban and rural areas.

In a policy document published earlier this month, the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Data Administration stressed the need to employ digital means to reduce income inequality and resolve regional imbalances in development.

The goal is to allow all people to enjoy the benefits from the digital age and attain common prosperity through high-quality development, the document said.

By 2025, the role of the digital economy in advancing common prosperity is expected to become more evident, with proactive progress made in narrowing disparities between regions, urban and rural areas, groups and basic public services. By 2030, a comprehensive set of policies outlining plans to use the digital economy to promote common prosperity will be put in place, it added.

Key measures include expanding the development of digital infrastructure, furthering the digitalization of industrial chains and stepping up cooperation between China's eastern and less developed western regions.

The capacity of internet infrastructure and services in small and medium-sized cities will be bolstered as part of broader efforts to bridge the regional digital divide, the document said.

The Communist Party of China has set the target of making substantive progress in ensuring prosperity for all by 2035, including steps to improve the system of income distribution, promote equal opportunity, increase the wages of low-income earners and expand the size of the middle class.

An official with the National Data Administration said in an online statement that "there is huge potential for the digital economy to drive the nation's common prosperity initiative".

"Emerging technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence are now empowering various sectors, driving the high-end transformation of traditional industries and their intelligent development," the official explained.

The official added that the expansion of digital infrastructure will contribute to the efficient flow of data and information, fostering distinctive rural industries, boosting the incomes of farmers, and providing momentum and vitality for agricultural modernization.

The emergence of new business models and sectors will create more jobs and offer more diversified employment opportunities, according to the official.

By June last year, the number of internet users in China had exceeded 1 billion, or 76.4 percent of the population. In rural areas, about 60 percent of families had internet access, the administration said.

According to an official report released last year, China's digital economy, the world's second largest by size, reached 50.2 trillion yuan ($7 trillion) in 2022, accounting for 41.5 percent of the nation's GDP.

Analysts have stressed the role of the digital economy in driving China's high-quality growth, a key step in efforts to expand employment before enabling more equal income distribution.

Guo Jianmin, an analyst with the NDRC's center on innovation-driven development, said the integration of digital technology and the real economy has propelled the continuous expansion of e-commerce, online marketing and digital entertainment.

For instance, the transaction volume of China's e-commerce sector grew from 8 trillion yuan in 2012 to 43.83 trillion yuan in 2022, with an average annual growth rate of 18.5 percent, he said.

Li Mingtao, head of the research institute at the China International Electronic Commerce Center, said the latest policy document has prioritized support to groups left behind in the nation's digital boom, including seniors and people living in western regions and rural areas.

He explained that one highlight of the policy document is the measures it has rolled out to expedite the digital transformation of rural industries, including the bolstering of rural digital infrastructure and coverage of telecommunications services.

The authorities have pledged to conduct more livestreaming initiatives to help farmers sell their produce and improve the utilization of e-commerce to develop agricultural brands. The government will also encourage online platforms to give more exposure to businesses selling the produce of farmers living in remote areas, according to the document.

The plan also aims to train more digital talent and improve digital literacy in rural areas for better job prospects, so that cellphones can become new "farming tools" and livestreaming sessions can become the norm for farmers.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, online retail sales in rural areas grew by 12.2 percent year-on-year to reach 1.7 trillion yuan in the first three quarters of last year. In 2022, the ministry organized 200,000 training sessions on livestreaming and other skills related to e-commerce in rural areas to help farmers better sell their products online.

Another focus of the policy document is to use digital means to promote more inclusive access to social services, high-quality educational resources, remote medical care and elderly care.

The nation will launch a special project to promote information accessibility, focusing on the adaptation of various websites and mobile applications to the needs of seniors and the disabled.

The policy document stressed the need to provide convenient and accessible elderly care services, including the development of products to assist them with dining, bathing, defecation and dressing and to cater to their need for social engagement, rehabilitation and daily life services.

The protection of the legitimate rights of workers employed under the new business models will be strengthened, as the policy document reemphasized the need to explore methods to include such workers in social insurance mechanisms and guide internet platform companies to adjust their labor rules.

Protecting the rights of workers on flexible payrolls, such as delivery workers and ride-hailing drivers, has long been a major concern as many of these workers have not been covered by the nation's social security net.

Li, from the China International Electronic Commerce Center, said the nation has gradually strengthened the protection of the rights of workers employed in the digital economy sector in recent years by optimizing relevant laws and regulations.

However, he said policymakers should give equal emphasis to ensuring the development of business models and guaranteeing the legitimate rights of workers while advancing the common prosperity initiative.

He explained that the growth of new technologies and business models, such as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to transport packages, may lead to the replacement of some jobs while creating opportunities for new ones.

"For authorities, it is important to ensure that the rights of workers can be guaranteed while adopting a prudent stance in their oversight of businesses so that new business models can keep emerging," he added.

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