Leadership pledges cash aid for peasants
Top Chinese leaders yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to helping the country's 65 million poverty-stricken peasants and revealed that new loans will be made available to help them starting next year.
Both President Jiang Zemin and premier Li Peng attended an anti-poverty meeting in Beijing yesterday and reassured the peasants that they had not been forgotten in China's economic takeoff.
To emphasise the leaders' commitment, the meeting was attended by almost all Standing Committee members of the Politburo except Li Ruihuan who was on an overseas tour.
Xinhua (the New China News Agency) said the meeting was the 'highest level anti-poverty conference held in New China's history'.
Premier Li disclosed in the first day of the three-day conference that starting next year, the Central Government would allocate an extra 1.5 billion yuan (HK$1.4 billion) a year for impoverished provinces to build roads and water facilities.
Another three billion yuan will be set aside each year as anti-poverty loans for peasants to start their own business. In addition, China's quasi commercial banks will also allocate an unspecified amount of loans each year to help the peasants, Mr Li said.
According to Xinhua, the Central Government's current budget for poverty relief is 10.8 billion yuan a year.
Meanwhile, Mr Li told local governments to increase their budgets for poverty relief starting next year to match at least 30 to 50 per cent of the amount to be spent by Central Government.
The measures announced yesterday are part of a seven-year anti-poverty agenda introduced by Beijing in 1994. The goal of the scheme is to eliminate poverty in China by 2000.
Speaking at the conference, President Jiang, also the General Secretary of the Communist Party, said grain production was the key in all anti-poverty work and all levels of government must therefore spend more on agriculture and raise farm output.
In his speech, premier Li reminded cadres in poor provinces that instead of competing against each other, they should strive for 'real improvement' of peasants' livelihoods.
Yesterday's conference followed a five-day cross-province train journey by Mr Jiang from Beijing to Shenzhen during which he visited peasant families and urged them not to lose faith in the Communist Party.
Analysts said both the visit and the conference indicated the leadership was alarmed by the widening income gap and the Government was able to spend more on poverty-relief projects because of the economic boom.