Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/KEVIN FRAYER
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/KEVIN FRAYER

President Xi Jinping has led a ceremony highlighting Beijing’s efforts to end extreme poverty, the Chinese leader’s latest push to use the historic achievement to consolidate power before his second term ends.

Xi said in a speech on Thursday that some 10-million people have been lifted out of poverty annually during his eight years in power, at a cost of almost 1.6-trillion yuan ($248bn). The event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, including an awards ceremony for key participants in the campaign, was televised live to the nation of 1.4-billion people by state media.

The ceremony highlighted Xi’s personal role in the fight, honouring a town in the northwest, officials for which he worked with earlier in his career, and mentioning his visits to impoverished areas. “I insisted on looking at real poverty, understanding the real efforts to reduce poverty, helping those are in real poverty and achieving real poverty alleviation,” Xi said in a speech that lasted more than an hour.

The Chinese leader has made reducing poverty a central goal since taking over the Communist Party in late 2012. The ruling party is expected to soon declare victory in building a “moderately prosperous” society, which would elevate living standards and bolster its legitimacy ahead of its 100th anniversary later in 2021.

Xi credited China’s “miracle” poverty success to its one-party model and noted the achievement came despite “invasions made by Western powers” in centuries past. The remarks represented a pointed challenge to President Joe Biden’s efforts to strengthen the US’s position to compete with China and muster an international coalition to push back against Beijing’s growing influence.

Xi said China would conduct evaluations and consolidate progress made on poverty reduction to ensure there is no large-scale return of the problem.

The People’s Daily ran a three-page, 22,000-character article on  Wednesday summarising the poverty-alleviation orders Xi has issued since taking power. His efforts “achieved great success and made a great contribution to global progress”, the party’s official mouthpiece said.

Party propaganda

“Today’s ceremony and the associated party propaganda are aimed at painting Xi Jinping as the victorious commander leading China to success in its millenniums-long battle against poverty and allowing him to claim personal credit for this accomplishment,” said Carl Minzner, a professor at Fordham Law School who specialises in Chinese law and governance.

“This will have dramatic ramifications in terms of Xi’s personal power, the extent to which a cult of personality surrounding Xi will be tacitly or directly encouraged,” he said.

Xi was the focus of a similar event in September in which he hailed China’s success in handling the coronavirus outbreak. His second term as party chief is set to expire in 2022, but he’s widely expected to stay on in that role after amending the constitution in 2018 to allow him to also remain in the position of president for a third term.

The party has been working to boost Xi’s profile, compelling people in many occupations to adopt “Xi Thought” into their work. Earlier this month, it issued guidelines saying primary school students should be instructed in the set of broad, often vague tenets. Success on this front would allow Xi to be elevated to a standing rivaling Mao Zedong, whose portrait hangs over Tiananmen Square and is printed on the currency.

In 20202, China raised its official poverty line to people earning 4,000 yuan a year, up from 2,625 yuan in 2012, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. While that is higher than the World Bank’s absolute poverty line, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development defines anyone with income less than half the median as being poor.

Using that standard, people in rural areas would need to earn above 7,500 yuan a year in China to escape poverty.



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