China is promising farmers lower taxes and higher subsidies in its latest effort to raise rural incomes and ease burdens that have sparked violent protests, according to Dow Jones newswires.

The new policy, announced this week by state media, aims to help spread prosperity to China's countryside, most of whose 800 million people have been left behind by a boom that has turned eastern cities into economic powerhouses.

The government of President Hu Jintao, who took office in 2002, has made improving the lives of the rural poor a priority after two decades in which Beijing focused on building up export industries.

Rising tax burdens have led to violent clashes between farmers and local authorities, causing both official alarm at social unrest and embarrassment for leaders of a Communist Party founded on improving the lot of Chinese peasants.

The new policy, titled "No. 1 Document of 2005," doesn't give financial details. But it promises new spending on rural education and health programs and on irrigation and other infrastructure.

"Only by doing this can we support more population with less land, meet the growing consumption demand, open more space for agricultural adjustment of structure and boost farmers income," the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said Monday. "The development of agriculture and rural villages will naturally be on a new stage if a big breakthrough is made in these areas."

Other information about the plan was released later in the week. Financial details are likely to be announced by China's finance minister when the national legislature holds its annual meeting in March.

While incomes in Chinese cities have soared, those for farmers have risen slowly, if at all. China's annual income has passed US$1,000, according to the government, but many rural families get by on a fraction of that. The yawning gap between rural and urban incomes - and the growing social tensions that it has caused - are expected to be key issues at the parliament session in March.

The policy promises higher crop subsidies and "steadily increasing investment in agriculture" this year, though it doesn't say how much or how it compares to previous government spending. It pledges to improve farmers' land use rights - a critical issue at a time when China also faces growing rural anger at the seizure of farmland for real estate development. Many farm families have no formal title to their land and receive little or no compensation when it is seized.

The policy promises to extend a strategy announced last year of eliminating many basic taxes. But it avoids what experts say are two key issues for raising farm incomes - the rights of rural families to own land and to move in search of work.

Chinese farm families aren't allowed to own land, instead controlling it through long-term leases that prevent them from using it as collateral for bank loans.

Rural and urban residents also are classified separately by the government. Millions of people who move from the countryside to cities every year looking for work, but many areas periodically detain and send home those who lack residency papers.

A 2003 World Bank report said the single most effective step China could take to raise farm incomes would be to let farmers move to cities in search of better-paid work. Allowing such migration would raise rural incomes as much as 16 percent by letting the farmers who remain behind acquire more farmland and compete more efficiently, the report said.