No resting on its laurels

By Li Xiaoyun

Country now faces the challenge of consolidating the poverty alleviation achievements it has made

China's critical battle against poverty is being waged against the background of profound and far-reaching changes in the country's economic and social conditions, which are a nationwide campaign to promote social fairness. China's economic development and social transformation have always been moving along the track of safeguarding the interests of the majority of people since launching its reform and opening-up bid. From the economic system reform in rural areas in the 1980s to the emergence of township enterprises, and to the new type of urbanization, people, farmers in particular, have been the main players. Such a people-driven and people-centered model has ensured the drastic decline in the population living in absolute poverty.

The Chinese government in 2012 decided to eliminate absolute poverty in rural areas by 2020. It needs to be pointed out that from 2012 on to now the basic conditions for poverty reduction and rural development have greatly changed and are hugely different from those before 2012.

To start with, for a long time after reform and opening-up, the poverty-stricken population was closely linked with economic growth as the main participants in agricultural development and township enterprises were farmers. But as the country entered the 21st century, it became very difficult for these groups to increase their incomes. Meanwhile, widening urban-rural wealth gaps add to the difficulty of the old poverty reduction model. What's more, the urban-rural disparity in basic public services is becoming more apparent.

Against such a backdrop, normal measures would not be able to eradicate the remaining poverty. What was needed to realize the target of eliminating absolute poverty by 2020 was unconventional actions to reduce the constraints of the existing system.

Thus the targeted poverty reduction and alleviation campaign was initiated in 2012. The main goals of the campaign include efforts to make sure that rural residents' per capita disposable income reaches 2,300 yuan ($337) or above a year and efforts to address prominent issues to ensure rural poor people do not have to worry about food and clothing and have access to compulsory education, basic medical services and safe housing. By the end of 2019, the number of rural residents living in absolute poverty had been reduced to 5.51 million, and 97 percent of registered poverty-stricken households had access to compulsory education, basic medical services and safe housing. Judging from the current trend, the country is capable of winning the critical battle against poverty by 2020. Even though the novel coronavirus outbreak has had a huge adverse impact, it has not changed the fundamentals of the poverty eradication campaign.

The serious challenge the country faces now is to consolidate the poverty alleviation achievements it has made. The current achievements are due in part to special policy arrangements and resource supply. Although some institutional innovations, such as education-driven poverty alleviation and health-themed poverty alleviation have seen success, the campaign is still a temporary approach that does not involve enough systematic and institutional arrangements.

There are about 30 million people who have just been lifted out of poverty but may fall back into poverty if exposed to risks. Due to the novel coronavirus, some of people have fallen back into poverty and the number is increasing.

To prevent people from slipping back into poverty, a long-term mechanism against poverty should be established that includes both emergency aid to vulnerable groups and daily actions incorporated into socioeconomic development.

First, we should put in place an integrated urban-rural system for employment. As more of the poor population get employed in non-agricultural industries, such a system could effectively prevent people from falling back into poverty.

Second, we need to make reforms to current poverty alleviation policies in line with empowerment. Reducing poverty by building local industries has been an approach largely led by the government, but a long-term mechanism needs sustainable empowerment and market development arrangements.

Third, government departments, State-owned enterprises, government-affiliated institutions and first secretaries of the Communist Party of China's village committees serving as village-stationed support providers have greatly eased human resource shortages in poor areas in the campaign, but we need to consider the long-term sustainable supply of human resources to consolidate the achievements that have been made and prevent people slipping back into poverty.

Forth, while preventing people from falling back into poverty, we should also put in place an effective mechanism for stopping new poverty from happening. Education and health are the two areas that need more attention in this respect.


The author is the chair professor of humanities at China Agricultural University and a member of the Advisory Committee of the State Council Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development.

China Daily 2020 28th, September