China’s Push to End Rural Poverty Underpins CCP Initiative to Anchor Support

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    What is the national poverty level of China? “It’s the near poor who are affected more by the economic hits this year as a result of the coronavirus and the floods,” said Gao Qin, a professor at Columbia University who wrote a book about poverty in China. “These are the people who I would worry more about because they face many similar challenges but don’t get the same government support as those below the poverty line.” China is likely to announce the completion of Xi’s goal soon, ahead of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding. In March, he said the party made a “solemn promise” to end poverty and that “must be met as scheduled, without retreat and without flexibility.” Success will help Xi show the public that the Communist Party is delivering concrete economic gains, which is crucial to maintaining the legitimacy of its one-party rule. It also marks a milestone for China’s development after officials embraced market-oriented reforms in the wake of Mao Zedong’s tumultuous rule marked by slow growth and famine, propelling its rise to become the world’s second-biggest economy. Still, Xi faces a more immediate problem after the pandemic left millions of migrant workers without a job. While the economy is now recovering, consumption is still well below where it was in 2019 and the rebound likely hasn’t replaced lost income for many in rural poor areas. 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. Those in urban slums aren’t included in China’s poverty statistics, and the government’s focus on absolute poverty means it ignores a lot of people who are just relatively poor. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation 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 7,000 yuan a year in China to escape poverty, as the median rural per capita income was 14,389 yuan last year. China’s rural poverty target, however, is still well above the absolute poverty line of the World Bank. In addition to having sufficient income, China also doesn’t consider people to be out of poverty until they have enough food and clothing, guaranteed basic healthcare, access to compulsory education and safe housing. To achieve that, China has mobilized more than 3 million party cadres and bureaucrats from across government and public institutions to help people meet those requirements. There’s been some problems with the program. In 2018, the last full year for which data are available, 177,000 people were punished in poverty alleviation-related corruption cases, according to the party’s anti-graft watchdog. Villagers have also complained about an unequal distribution of funds, and relatively well-off residents gaming the system to gain some of the program’s benefits. Still, the program has been lauded by millions of people like Luoba. Her husband took a job last month harvesting potatoes about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away in Hebei province that nets him around 150 yuan a day, which over the course of a year would be about three times more than the official poverty line. “Top-down mobilization propels the whole bureaucracy to meet Xi’s mandate — eradicating poverty — at any cost,” said Yuen Yuen Ang, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan and author of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. “Its strength is also its weakness. Results will look impressive because they must, but if extreme measures are used to achieve them, they bring unintended problems down the road.” Subscribe to our YouTube channel: QUICKTAKE ON SOCIAL: Follow QuickTake on Twitter: Like QuickTake on Facebook: Follow QuickTake on Instagram: Subscribe to our newsletter: Email us at QuickTake by Bloomberg is a global news network delivering up-to-the-minute analysis on the biggest news, trends and ideas for a new generation of leaders.

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