Shaking off poverty is an obligation for China

By Li Hong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/14 19:08:40

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

The central government has listed elimination of poverty by 2020 as one of its top priorities. It's a task that is both achievable and indeed obligatory considering the country's enormous economic growth in the past 40 years.

At the end of last year, the country boasted 1 million affluent urban households with assets of over 10 million yuan ($1.55 million). As a socialist country, it would be an agony - if not a disgrace - for the country's elites to sit idle and not extend a helping hand to the needy. According to the latest statistics, there are still 23 million people in China who are stuck in poverty, mostly living in mountainous or outlying rural areas.

China has lifted 700 million people out of poverty in recent decades through relentless economic reform and opening-up. The number accounts for three-quarters of global poverty reduction in the same period.

Many claim that what the Chinese government has achieved is unprecedented in human history, and China's rich experience in eradicating poverty has offered valuable lessons for other developing countries, such as India and Pakistan.

But for China's policy makers, there should be no complacency, because many Chinese families remain financially vulnerable and could easily slip back into poverty if government support were removed, or if the economy were to suffer a serious slowdown.

The determination expressed by the Chinese leadership to shake off pockets of poverty around the country deserves acclaim. Policies drafted at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year made it clear that all Chinese farmers should have 30 more years of farmland use rights, and that they should receive compensation when their land is expropriated. Other countries see China's practice of guaranteeing secure land tenure as a powerful tool to ease rural poverty.

Now the government is looking at other policies catering for the poor, such as enhanced investment in infrastructure, support for rural education and medical care, improved training to give villagers working skills, and targeted job policies for migrant rural laborers.

China's poverty reduction efforts have occurred in waves. The shift to the rural household responsibility system propelled a large increase in agricultural output, and poverty was cut by half from 1981 to 1987. And after China joined the WTO in 2001, its economy gained renewed impetus, and poverty reduction resumed at a very rapid rate.

Experts have pointed out that China's success in poverty alleviation is linked not only to its impressive economic growth, but also to its efforts to productively employ the have-nots of society. The fact that many Chinese peasants cannot earn a decent living as farmers is a clear signal that their labor could be more useful in an urban environment than by toiling on the land. So the focus of the government effort should be to ensure that rural people can gain proper wages.

Lately, some first-tier cities including Beijing and Shanghai have clamped down on buildings with cheap and crowded accommodation and have driven large numbers of migrant workers back home.

Chinese commentators have said that while the poor villagers showed up looking for work to escape poverty, the cities have now shown them the door.

The villagers do not expect the cities to extract them from their rundown cottages or to relocate them to new urban apartments with modern amenities. What they are looking for are jobs and opportunities in the cities, but this has been hampered by forced evictions in the name of fire prevention and urban beautification, some pundits say.

Some have suggested that the central government could ease up on migration restrictions by making it easier for rural laborers to settle in cities. Recent studies focusing on rural migrant laborers have shown it is difficult for them to bring their families to the city, put their children in school, and get decent health care.

Also, China's decentralized fiscal system, in which local governments are responsible for funding local health and education systems, should be overhauled. The growing disparities in economic strength between developed coastal provinces and land-locked western areas make it harder for the rural poor to escape from poverty.

Poor localities, mostly in western and central China, have not been able to invest adequately in public services, leaving poor households to cope with the exorbitant cost of education and health care. Struck by a family member's illness, poor households either forego treatment or face devastating financial woes. The lack of public funding also means that children of rural families are often forced to drop out of school, losing the opportunity to further their studies and then being forced to follow the paths of their parents as low-skilled laborers with few chances of advancement.

The governments of all developing countries should bear in mind the theory that only rising water levels can lift all the boats in the river.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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