China’s road to poverty alleviation

China’s transition from a small agrarian society to global economic powerhouse was splendid

Azhar Azam April 15, 2021
The writer is a private professional and writes on geopolitical issues and regional conflicts

The economic development of China has been construed as miraculous by many experts, state heads and international financial institutions including the World Bank. By 2010, Chinese average economic growth had reached at about 10% and even exceeded expectations of Deng Xiaoping, the initiator of China’s reform programme.

China’s transition from a small agrarian society to global economic powerhouse was splendid. Between 1978 and 2019, China’s trade as a percentage of GDP had roughly quadrupled. Chinese per capita GDP, which was just one-third of Sub-Saharan Africa, increased 65 times in 40 years with an economy that once accounted for only 5% of the global economy and now contributes to 17% of global GDP.

Forty years ago, about 80% of the country’s population was living below the poverty line. The biggest of all successes is undoubtedly China’s victory in pulling 800 million people out of poverty as well as providing improved education, health and other services.

Targeted poverty alleviation has been the cornerstone of China’s poverty control strategy. The approach, first proposed in 2013, called for the implementation of tailored sets of targeted measures to eradicate poverty and build a moderately prosperous society in the country.

Building Xiaokang topped Xi Jinping’s “four comprehensives”. In his New Year message in 2016, the Chinese president sought his nation and teammates to join forces and exert combined and concerted efforts to win the key battle against rural poverty to realise the vision of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

The national approach, among other system designs, encompassed seven institutionalised systems: accountability, policy, investment, assistance, social mobilisation, supervision and assessment. It further established a “five-batch” policy to take each batch of registered territory out of poverty through industrial development, relocation, eco-compensation, education and social security.

Xi’s call sounded a death knell for absolute poverty and rescued the remaining several dozen million rural people out of absolute poverty. The Chinese win against poverty means a lot for the world as Beijing overall contributed to 70% of global poverty reduction and made the key UN Sustainable Development Goal — which came under threat as the pandemic decelerated the poverty escape rate to one-third — more accessible.

After eight years of backbreaking work, the per capita disposable income of the rural poor has doubled from 6,079 yuan to 12,588 yuan and 832 impoverished counties and 128,000 poor villages have been declared poverty-free. Beijing’s proposed monitoring system and five-year plan would ensure that these counties and villages do not fall into poverty again.

Extreme poverty in China totalled 98.99 million in 2012. It was zero at the close of 2020, which means the poverty alleviation campaign was backed by the government’s quick and substantial resource allocation, allowing Beijing to help more than 30,000 rural residents shake off extreme poverty every day.

While the pandemic exacerbates challenges to global poverty together with conflict and climate change, China didn’t break the five-year streak of apportioning 20 billion yuan special funds toward poverty eradication and ear marked 146 billion yuan (about $22.4 billion) in 2020 including increase. China’s investment in the programme over the last eight years has now reached 1.6 trillion yuan (around $246 billion).

The ambition of a moderately prosperous society was a Gordian knot without providing basic facilities and infrastructure development. By upgrading public services such as education, healthcare and housing — Beijing tapered off core issues of its people and through reconstructing roads, laying rail lines and developing technological infrastructure — the government linked destitute areas with developed parts of the country and the world and aided them to boost their income and skills.

For Chinese minorities, Beijing pooled resources to launch extraordinary large-scale poverty-relief campaigns and implemented development plans. Beijing’s social mobilisation covered all 30 autonomous prefectures inhabited by ethnic communities and strengthened anti-poverty cooperation between east and west China.

Between 2016 and 2020, five minority areas — Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia and Xinjiang — and three provinces with a large multi-ethnic population — Guizhou, Yunnan and Qinghai — made great strides as the number of poor in all regions dropped by 15.6 million with the abolition of absolute poverty in all 28 minority ethnic groups.

The Chinese government rerouted specialised funds of about 300 billion yuan ($45.7 billion) to these eight minority zones in the last five years. Almost 45% of the national total addressed income disparities within ethnic minorities and raised their per capita income to 10,000 yuan ($1,530) in 2020, bringing them at par with and even beyond the international benchmark of ultra-poor.

Some use ifs and buts to play down the Chinese scale of action against poverty but none can take away from Beijing’s triumph since they admit that the incomes of rural people and minorities were significantly boosted “out of the toughest standards of living over the last few decades”. The UN bodies have lauded the miracle and the World Bank had long-predicted China was on track to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020. As developing countries from Asia and Africa romanticise China’s dream growth and seek to learn from it to help their people languished in poverty, there are lessons that could be learnt. A big heart is required from the developed world to unequivocally appreciate the Chinese emphatic win against abject poverty and support international institutions to share the experiences learned.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2021.

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