A poverty alleviation meeting held in Beijing last week revealed that more than 10 million Chinese people had been lifted out of poverty and some 340 counties in China had cast off their impoverished status this year.
The Central Government pledged in 2014 to place poverty-relief tasks high on the agenda and stipulate more bolstering policies to lift the country’s then-poorest 70 million people above the absolute poverty line (annual per capita income of 2,300 yuan or US$329) by the end of 2020. The deadline is set at the end of 2020 because China will celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2021 and vows to become a moderately prosperous society in all aspects in that year.
With the deadline drawing near, local governments all over the country are busy accelerating the inspection and approval of projects. While the nation is proud that absolute poverty, which has afflicted China for thousands of years, is about to be wiped out for the first time next year, we should still bear in minds that poverty relief is an unceasing task, and special attention should be paid to preventing those vulnerable people from slipping back into poverty again.
Next year will be the toughest for China’s poverty relief work. Since the remaining poor Chinese people are mainly ethnic communities scattered in the commonly called “three areas and three prefectures” (which include the deeply impoverished Tibet Autonomous Region, four other provinces where ethnic Tibetan people live, the southern part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and three poor prefectures in Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces). Due to limited education and geographical barriers, people in these places may lack skills to shake off poverty by themselves, and most of them are elderly, handicapped or left-behind children.
To make poverty relief sustainable, local governments should take pains to introduce targeted measures based on the unique conditions of different regions. Targeted measures mean not only that the natural environment will be protected, but also poverty-stricken people will be able to make financial gain by their own hands. For example, in high-altitude Tibet, environmental patrols and the raising of yaks, sheep and other herd animals should be encouraged to enhance the local people’s livelihoods. While for those poor people in Guizhou Province who are living in virtually uninhabitable places or deep mountains, migratory relocation may be the best choice for them to break the cycle of poverty. After their relocation, the areas where they used to live should be reforested, which is beneficial for the preservation of the natural environment.
To meet the deadline, some local governments are even prone to simply handing out State subsidies directly to needy families and poor farmers. The effect of giving money out is quick but unsustainable. Instead of relying on “blood-transfusion” acts, local governments should be encouraged to find “blood-making” acts, such as nurturing local industries and creating job opportunities that will help the poor attain sustainable development in the long run.
Nevertheless, due to geographical and historical reasons, the income gap between China’s coastal areas in the south and east and poor areas in the west is very big. Wealthy provinces and cities are now paired with impoverished counties, offering both financial and administrative assistance. Banks, research institutes and nongovernmental organizations are also mobilized to contribute to the national campaign. According to statistics, governments in the country’s richer regions have diverted more than 22.9 billion yuan to West China for fiscal spending.
Insufficient infrastructure is another major bottleneck for the development of poor regions. Besides the construction of roads, clean toilets, and power and water supplies, more public facilities such as kindergartens, primary and middle schools, cultural centers, medical services, and social welfare and care centers for the elderly and the handicapped should also be set up in poor areas.
Talent is the primary resource of development. Preferential policies should be stipulated and all kinds of skilled workers should be encouraged to return to their hometowns in rural areas to set up business. Efforts should also be made to maintain stable employment and address wage arrears for rural workers. To enable poor people in the countryside to have a decent life, various measures should be taken to restore hog production and the farming of other agricultural produce such as rice, beans, wheat and oil to make their incomes stable and ensure market supply all over the country.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)