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Eradicating poverty: Learning from emerging economic power China

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China’s role has shifted from the world’s biggest recipient of aid to “a contributor to global development” over the past five decades, and it has implemented thousands of projects and programs of in-kind assistance to benefit more than 160 other developing countries. Poverty alleviation has long been a high priority for China. China, which has lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty since 1979, made a historic announcement in February 2021 that it had officially eliminated extreme poverty in the country. Average incomes in rural China are now above the government’s absolute poverty standard.
China has since launched poverty alleviation cooperation projects in countries around the world. China’s successful track record over the past several decades is emerging as a “soft economic power diplomacy initiative” in entire world, where it has helped countries on the continent build facilities including water conservancy infrastructure, vocational and technical schools, government-subsidized housing, and demonstration zones for agricultural cooperation. China has also shared its experience on poverty reduction through exchanges and cooperation including organizing training and building platforms.
The remarkable achievements of China in reducing poverty marked a new chapter in the history of mankind’s fight against poverty and opened up new horizon for the development of human society. Under current standards, China has freed nearly 100 million impoverished rural residents from poverty since it started implementing the reform and opening-up policy in 1979. According to the World Bank’s international poverty line, the country is responsible for over 70 percent of the global reduction in poverty since late 1970s.
Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization considered this turnaround as “an unparalleled success” which over five decades pulled hundreds of millions people out of poverty. When poverty alleviation remains a daunting challenge across the world and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen in some countries, China has met the poverty eradication target set in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule, winning widespread praise from the international community.
China’s experience in reducing poverty has served as a useful reference for the efforts of various countries to realize their poverty reduction goals. Two weeks ago Prime Minister Imran Khan while addressing the 20th anniversary of Junsao Assistance and Sustainable Development Cooperation has said that “China is a role model for developing countries in poverty alleviation and added that the neighbouring country’s stellar growth has brought “800 million people out of poverty over the past four decades”.
“China’s leadership role in climate change is also highly appreciated. I commend President Xi’s vision of a ‘prosperous, clean and beautiful world’ and initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060,” Khan emphasized. On the other hand, China has appreciated Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent remarks on its poverty alleviation campaign saying Beijing is ready to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with other countries in poverty reduction. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said “China is ready to make greater contribution to build a poverty-free community with a shared future for mankind featuring common development.”
While fighting poverty at home, China has injected confidence and strength into the poverty alleviation cause of the entire humanity. Appreciating China’s global role in poverty reduction, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that it has pursued win-win cooperation and common development in developing bilateral ties with other developing countries including those in Africa, which is the country’s other contribution to the global cause of poverty eradication. According to a research report of the World Bank, the China-proposed the Belt and Road Initiative could help lift 7.6 million people in participating countries out of extreme poverty and 32 million people in relevant countries out of moderate poverty if the initiative should be implemented fully. It has offered help to more than 120 developing countries in the implementation of the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals.
Amid of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing global economic downturn, President Xi Jinping declared that China had eliminated poverty in 2020. Poverty elimination was one of Xi’s most signature national policies. Since Xi took power in 2012, China has pursued economic growth creating more billionaires than the U.S. and lifted nearly 90 million members of its rural population out of poverty. Reinstating his slogan of “common prosperity”, Xi while addressing the recent gathering held in Beijing said. “No country in the world has been able to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in such a short time. The result belongs to China as well as the world”. Xi stressed that by achieving the result, China has contributed its strength to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. He called poverty alleviation campaign a “complete victory,” a “miracle for humankind,” and China’s great contribution to the world.
The poverty reduction process in China has fully demonstrated the original aspiration and mission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to put people first and always work for the well-being of the Chinese people, the Party’s successful practices in blazing a poverty reduction path with Chinese characteristics based on the country’s national conditions, as well as the sense of responsibility of the Party to contribute more to humanity and build a better world.
By 2010, Chinese average economic growth had reached at about 10% and even exceeded expectations of Deng Xiaoping, the initiator of China’s reform programme. China’s transition from a small agrarian society to global economic powerhouse was splendid. Between 1978 and 2019, China’s trade as a percentage of GDP had roughly quadrupled. Chinese per capita GDP, which was just one-third of Sub-Saharan Africa, increased 65 times in 50 years with an economy that once accounted for only 5% of the global economy and now contributes to 17% of global GDP. Five decades ago, about 80% of the country’s population was living below the poverty line. The biggest of all successes is undoubtedly China’s victory in pulling nearly 800 million people out of poverty as well as providing improved education, health and other services.
Targeted poverty alleviation has been the cornerstone of China’s poverty control strategy. The approach, first proposed in 2013, called for the implementation of tailored sets of targeted measures to eradicate poverty and build a moderately prosperous society in the country. The national approach, among other system designs, encompassed seven institutionalised systems: accountability, policy, investment, assistance, social mobilisation, supervision and assessment.
China alleviates poverty through a range of projects, including providing healthcare, nutritious food, and education scholarships to vulnerable populations, promoting economic development through infrastructure construction, tourism, and microfinance, and conducting cooperative efforts aimed at disaster relief and public advocacy. Based on its national conditions and following the law of poverty reduction, China adopted a series of unconventional policies and measures and established a whole set of policy, work and institutional systems, blazing a poverty reduction path and forming anti-poverty theories with Chinese characteristics.
While the pandemic poses challenges to global poverty together with conflict and climate change, China doesn’t break the five-year streak of newly apportioning 20 billion yuan special funds toward poverty eradication and ear marked 146 billion yuan (about $22.4 billion) in 2020 including increase. China’s investment in the programme over the last eight years has now reached 1.6 trillion yuan (around $246 billion).
Throughout the 20th century, a sevenfold increase in productivity with “Green Revolution” technology resulted in a decline in poverty for East and Southeast Asia. Interestingly, poverty alleviation in farming-reliant communities was uneven. Subsequent analysis created a consensus among researchers that agriculture reform is more effective at poverty alleviation than any other type of economic growth. China has helped reduce poverty and improve people’s livelihood in other developing countries also by aiding them in constructing rural public welfare facilities, sharing experiences of agriculture management, and promoting technology transfer.
After eight years of backbreaking work, the per capita disposable income of the rural poor has doubled from 6,079 yuan to 12,588 yuan and 832 impoverished counties and 128,000 poor villages have been declared poverty-free. Beijing’s proposed monitoring system and five-year plan would ensure that these counties and villages do not fall into poverty again.
Extreme poverty in China totalled 98.99 million in 2012. It was zero at the close of 2020
Standing at a new starting point, China is about to embark on a new journey. It’s believed that the country will continue promoting the realization of common prosperity for everyone while making unremitting efforts with the international community to jointly build a community with a shared future for mankind that features common development and is free from poverty.
Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum and its executive chairman, said the restoration of China’s seat at the UN 50 years ago “was a remarkable moment”, and “it has changed the history of global cooperation”. “China has been playing an increasingly important role in global peace and security, poverty alleviation and helping the least-developed countries and the people,” he said. “China’s continued poverty alleviation efforts helped over 800 million people out of poverty in the past 40 years. It’s the biggest contribution to the UN Millennium Goal on poverty of any nation,” he asserted.
Some critics use ifs and buts to play down the Chinese scale of action against poverty but none can take away from Beijing’s triumph since they admit that the incomes of rural people and minorities were significantly boosted “out of the toughest standards of living over the last few decades”. The UN bodies have lauded the miracle and the World Bank had long-predicted China was on track to eliminate absolute poverty by 2030. As developing countries from Asia and Africa romanticise China’s dream growth and seek to learn from it to help their people languished in poverty, there are lessons that could be learnt. A big heart is required from the developed world to unequivocally appreciate the Chinese emphatic win against abject poverty and support international institutions to share the experiences learned.