Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: CGIS
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: CGIS

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared victory in an eight-year drive to eradicate extreme poverty in the world’s most populous nation, a key goal of the ruling Communist Party.

“We have achieved in a timely manner the poverty alleviation goal of the new era,” Xi said at a meeting on Thursday of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme decision-making body, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. He added that the incomes of nearly 100-million people had moved above China’s official poverty line — defined as those who earn less than 11 yuan ($1.68) per day — during that period.

After assuming leadership of the Communist Party eight years ago, Xi made the drive to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020 one of his top goals. The party defines it as a step to achieving what it calls a “moderately prosperous” society, a key part of its moves to improve living standards and underpin its claim to political legitimacy.

The anti-poverty campaign has been focused on rural areas which largely escaped coronavirus transmission in China this year. Tens of millions of migrant workers from the countryside were estimated to have lost their jobs due to the closure of factories in the first quarter of the year when China implemented nationwide lockdowns. Gauges of employment have largely recovered since then.

“The declaration tells us more about how the Chinese government defines poverty than about actual levels of deprivation and substantive improvements in people’s lives,” said Sarah Rogers, a lecturer in contemporary China studies at the University of Melbourne who has studied the anti-poverty campaign. “I’m not convinced the campaign has addressed the underlying drivers of deprivation, disempowerment and stark inequality in China”

Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang set off a nationwide debate on poverty alleviation when he reminded the public that two-fifths of China’s population earned just 1,000 yuan a month on average. “It’s not even enough to rent a room in a medium-sized Chinese city,” he said during the annual national parliament meeting in May.

The anti-poverty campaign has involved a massive mobilisation of state resources, with tens of millions of people relocated from remote villages to newly-built homes closer to urban centres. Elderly and disabled rural residents have received cash handouts and the government has launched schemes to find jobs for those formerly unemployed or dependent on subsistence farming.

Xi described the achievement, which was given top-billing in state media on Friday, as the result of the “largest and most vigorous battle in human history against poverty.”

China’s poverty line is slightly below the absolute poverty level of the World Bank, at market exchange rates.

China in November removed the final nine counties, all in the mountainous province of Guizhou, from a national list of impoverished counties, Xinhua reported last month. The average income in those counties had reached 11,487 yuan a year, it said.



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