China’s final push to eradicate poverty will be difficult but not impossible if handled in a clean, transparent manner

The country has already lifted hundreds of millions above the poverty line but with 70 million still destitute, local officials must pick up their game

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:42pm

China’s achievement in eradicating poverty is unparalleled for sheer scale, like the urban migration that played such a big part in it. But one of the biggest challenges still lies ahead – the remaining rump of rural destitution. Decades of opening up and market reform may have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty but, paradoxically, they have widened the wealth gap between the rich and the rural poor. That is not good for social harmony and stability.

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Even though China is the first developing country to meet the UN’s millennium development goal of halving the population living in poverty by 2015, official statistics still put more than 70 million rural residents below the poverty line – an annual income of 2,300 yuan (HK$2,790) – at the end of last year.

Raising them above it by 2020, in accordance with the guidelines of the draft 13th five-year plan endorsed by the fifth plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee, is likely to be hardest task of poverty alleviation, because they tend to be stranded in remote rural areas or confronted with difficulties they cannot overcome without extra help.

As the ruling Politburo conceded after a recent meeting, this calls for unconventional measures. The first step is to identify and analyse the reasons they still live in poverty and their exact number.

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President Xi Jinping (習近平 ) has said poverty alleviation for 70 million people will be the most important yardstick for appraising the performance of local party and government leaders. The party aims to lift 50 million out of poverty by 2020 and put in place a social security net to cover the remaining 20 million poor who are disabled or unable to work.

The Politburo says poverty alleviation will include investment in infrastructure in impoverished areas. That will count for little, however, unless local leaders take greater initiative in devising practical measures to help people escape poverty through their own efforts.

They also need to ensure that poverty alleviation funds are neither wasted nor drained by theft and misappropriation as in the past.