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Has China Really Defeated Extreme Poverty?


A giant screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China March 5, 2021. (REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)
Has China Really Defeated Extreme Poverty?
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China opened the yearly meeting of its top legislative advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, on Thursday. The CPPCC leader praised President Xi Jinping’s government’s COVID-19 response and reported, in his words, “an all-round victory” in China’s fight against poverty.

Last week, President Xi made similar comments in a ceremony celebrating the progress on poverty reduction. He declared extreme poverty had been ended in China.

"All 98.99 million people who are the poor rural population have been taken out of poverty,” he said.

In 2012, Xi began a plan that has helped China go beyond the World Banks’s 2030 target for ending extreme poverty.

Official media broadcast the ceremony last week to millions of people. Xi told citizens that the government had spent about $246 billion, to fight poverty over the last eight years.

Xi said these people no longer need to worry about being able to buy food and clothes. He also said the government will guarantee healthcare, housing and education.

The People’s Daily, official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), called the ending of poverty “historic.”

Just this past Sunday, China released what it calls the “No. 1 policy document.” It promised to keep fighting poverty, while changing the plan to what China calls “rural revitalization.” Experts quoted by the state-owned Chinese newspaper, the Global Times, said the new policy will work to help communities in rural areas need less government assistance. This would be done by creating many new jobs in large infrastructure projects, the experts added.

Changing measures

However, in defining poverty, China continues to use the World Bank’s measure for establishing the world’s poorest countries. But the World Bank considers China among upper-middle-earning economies. Also, China defines a person who lives in rural poverty as someone who lives on $1.69 each day, reports Reuters. The World Bank defines it as someone who lives on $1.90 each day.

In looking at the Chinese economy, Brookings Institution economist Indermit Gill wrote that measuring progress using the official poverty lines of the world’s poorest countries is the “very definition of underachievement.”

Xi and the official media remained largely silent about more than forty years of market-style economic reforms that began with opening China to foreign investment after the Cultural Revolution.

As 2020 closed, Martin Raiser of the World Bank told the New York Times that while he believes China has ended poverty in rural areas, he questioned if the situation would continue and if it the measures in place are cost effective.

The government created jobs for rural workers, gave animals to farmers, and put lots of money into poor rural areas, reported the Times.

Keeping gains made on poverty

Xi's declaration of the end of poverty in China conflicted with a statement by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last May.

“There are over 600 million people whose monthly income is barely $140, not enough to rent a room in Chinese cities,” he said at his yearly press conference.

Xia Ming is a professor of political science at the City University of New York. He said he expects the ruling CCP will support Xi's claims about the success of China's efforts to end poverty. They might, Xia said, even work to create supporting evidence.

Wu Qiang is a former teacher in the political department at Tsinghua University. He told VOA that Xi's statements show he has very little to highlight after his eight years in power. He added that declaring the end of poverty is an effort to calm the country in the face of rising earnings inequality.

He said Xi’s public statements are to show other Party leaders that by trying to end poverty he is trying to protect the Communist Party.

China is opening the yearly meeting of its ceremonial legislature on Friday in Beijing. Thousands of delegates will attend the National People’s Congress. The country’s strong economic performance last year during the continuing COVID-19 crisis is expected to be praised again. And the government is expected to discuss its long-term goals for its economy. Thousands of delegates will attend the National People’s Congress, though mostly by video link.

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA's Gao Feng reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

rural - adj. of or relating to the country and the people who live there instead of the city

revitalize - v. to make (someone or something) active, healthy, or energetic again

quote – v. to repeat (something written or said by another person) exactly

infrastructure - n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly

underachievement - n. someone (such as a student or athlete) who does not perform as well or work as hard as he or she can

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