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Poverty in China

Five things to know about China’s huge anti-poverty drive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 10:01am

Poverty alleviation is expected to be a major policy goal of President Xi Jinping during his second term in office after a Communist Party congress this autumn, according to analysts.

China has already lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty after three decades of economic reforms on the mainland.

The central government has outlined an ambitious plan to completely eliminate poverty in rural areas by 2020. Here are five key points about the poverty eradication drive:

1. What criteria does China use to measure poverty?

The central government ruled in 2015 that rural residents with an annual income of less than 2,800 yuan (US$427) were living in absolute poverty. The previous criteria set in 2011 was 2,300 yuan.

Fourteen areas, mainly mountainous regions in former communist revolutionary bases such as around Liupan mountain in Guizhou province, the Dabie mountain area in Anhui, Hubei and Henan provinces and the Taihang mountain area in Hebei were ruled as suffering from particularly acute poverty.

2. What poverty alleviation targets have been set and what has been achieved?

President Xi Jinping has pledged to wipe out poverty by 2020 to ensure China has built a “moderately prosperous society”. This was one of the centennial goals for the Communist Party of China, which was founded in 1921.

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Government figures suggest that the number living in poverty in rural areas has fallen from 98.9 million in 2013 to 43.35 million last year. It meant the poverty rate among the rural population fell from 10.2 per cent to 4.5 per cent, according to Liu Yongfu, the director of State Council Poverty Alleviation Office.

3. What’s Beijing’s strategy to achieve its poverty alleviation targets?

Eight main measures have been drawn up, including developing industries such as tourism and e-commerce to help villagers find a job after occupational training. People who live in geologically hazardous areas prone to earthquakes or landslides, or are based in remote areas, will be relocated. There is also an emphasis on ensuring children get a basic education or occupational training to prevent poverty passing down the generations.

The government will also develop public health services in poor areas as medical bills are a frequent cause of families falling into poverty. The elderly and infirm will be eligible for social security payments.

4. What are the challenges to achieve the poverty alleviation targets?

Professor He Xuefeng, a sociologist at the Central China Science and Technology University, said his field studies show few poverty alleviation schemes relying on setting up local industries fare well. “I think people underestimated the difficulty of establishing an industry and making it sustainable,” He said. But for Beijing, a much bigger problem looms large – corruption related to the allocation of poverty alleviation funds.

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The central government decided two years ago to give 70 per cent of these funds directly to county level authorities to help ensure the cash was used more efficiently. A report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in January said that among all the complaints filed to the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog last year, more than half were made at a local level about poverty alleviation programmes and funds. The anti-graft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, punished more than 5,000 cadres for corruption related to poverty alleviation in the first six months of last year alone.

5. If China achieves its goals, what next?

Wang Sangui, a professor who studies rural affairs at Beijing’s Renmin University, said poverty alleviation efforts will not come to a halt after the goals are reached. “The population in poverty and need will still exist in some form and the Chinese government will continue the work,” Wang said. Even as basic poverty is eradicated, there will be relative poverty in different sections of society, which will need to be addressed, he said.