BEIJING (AP)--China's rural labor force is swelling just as farms need fewer workers, a trend that is likely to force migrants to compete for already scarce jobs in cities, the official China Daily reported Feb. 20.

Nearly 10 million rural Chinese are expected to enter the job market every year during the next five years, bringing China's labor force in the countryside to 600 million by 2005, the newspaper reported in its Business Weekly edition.

By 2005, only 168 million Chinese will need to work on farms, the newspaper said, citing a study by a think tank under the Ministry of Agriculture.

The findings add to an already dim employment picture in China. Chinese leaders are worried that frequent protests by unemployed workers across China could turn into anti-government demonstrations.

In the cities, unemployment is already at 6.5 percent as state industries lay off workers to cope with free-market reforms. Official statistics mask the extent of the problem by excluding first-time job-seekers and rural migrants.

China Daily reported that last year only 22 million out of the 70 million unemployed rural laborers who went to cities found work. Cities will be able to absorb only as many as 7 million more rural laborers a year over the next five years, the newspaper said.

The Chinese government has encouraged the build-up of rural industries to alleviate pressure on cities. At the same time, many cities have tried to keep migrants out to protect jobs. Beijing, for one, prohibits about 100 trades from employing migrants, the newspaper said.

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