China closing in on declaring initial victory in beating poverty despite turbulent 2020, but concerns remain

30-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:50 AM Print This Post

China claims to have lifted the last group of over 800 poor counties out of absolute poverty, one of the final steps to eradicating extreme poverty in the country of 1.4 billion people, despite a turbulent 2020.

Beijing has not gone as far as to announce a complete eradication of poverty, but any problems now are attributed to specific villages or households after confirming the final 832 counties out of 3,000 across the country designated in 2012 had been removed from the category.

Xia Gengsheng, an official at China’s poverty alleviation office, told the official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday that the central government will verify that all poor counties have truly eradicated poverty before Beijing makes a final announcement having set a target for it to be achieved this year.

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“The objective task of nationwide poverty alleviation has been completed,” state-run broadcaster CCTV said on Monday.

Poverty in China is defined as an annual cash income of 2,300 yuan (US$349), set using 2010 prices, or around 4,000 yuan (US$607) at current prices.

No country has pulled more people out of poverty than China. And Australia is pleased to have played our role in the economic emancipation of millions of Chinese through the development of the Chinese economy

Scott Morrison

On Monday, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison commended China’s poverty reduction efforts, despite ongoing trade and political tensions between the two nations.

“No country has pulled more people out of poverty than China. And Australia is pleased to have played our role in the economic emancipation of millions of Chinese through the development of the Chinese economy,” said Morrison.

“This economic interdependence and openness has created unprecedented wealth and prosperity and lifted billions of people out of poverty. Importantly, it facilitated the economic rise of China.

“Now that is a good thing for the global economy. It is good for Australia. And, of course, it’s certainly good for the Chinese people. Australia is not and has never been in the economic containment camp on China.”

The mission to eradicate poverty is a key element of the comprehensively well-off society goal that President Xi Jinping has promised to deliver before the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party next year.

Creating a comprehensively well-off society is also the starting point for Xi to achieve the longer-term goal of building a more prosperous and powerful country as part of his Chinese dream blueprint.

Critics argue China’s poverty eradication campaign set the threshold of poverty too low, with a per capital cash income of 4,000 yuan a year this year representing a living standard of $2.2 per day, according to the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, but this is still slightly higher than the international poverty line of $2.16 in 2019.

There are also concerns whether some people will fall back into poverty after government subsidies that are part of the poverty alleviation programme dry up.

An officially designated poor county in China is often entitled to generous subsidies and favourable policies, with many authorities in remote areas jostling to be labelled as poor in previous years to receive help from Beijing.

Xi himself warned earlier this year that poorer members of China’s society could bear the brunt of the economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, as migrant workers from poor rural areas were more vulnerable to losing their jobs amid the resulting economic downturn.

Data from China’s poverty alleviation office showed that the number of poor migrant workers actually increased to 29 million in 2020 from 27 million in 2019.

But the move towards the eradication of absolute poverty also does not change the fact that China’s wealth gap between the rich and the poor has been widening.

The per capita disposable income of urban residents was 20,524 yuan (US$3,116) in the first three quarters of 2020, more than that of rural residents and up from 13,070 yuan (US$1,984) in the same period seven years ago when the comparable data first became available, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Yu Jianrong, an outspoken Chinese liberal intellectual, wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, on Tuesday that poverty is a relative concept and the use of average income as a major indicator could cover up “actual difficulties in life faced by low-income groups”.

But despite the moves to eradicate poverty, China’s regional imbalance has worsened as the disposable income gap between residents in Shanghai and the northwestern Xinjiang province nearly doubled to 24,376 yuan in the first nine months of 2020 from 13,506 yuan in 2013.

“China is still a country with the widest urban-rural gap in the world,” said Wei Houkai, head of the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last week, adding that the problem of “underdeveloped areas” would continue to exist even though officially there are now no poor counties in China.


Category: China

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