China's herculean task in alleviating poverty has borne results. As UN Secretary General António Guterres said when addressing the Beijing Forum in December 2020 via video link, "China has been a leader [in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals]" by helping hundreds of millions of people get out of poverty. In Guterres' words, that was "the greatest anti-poverty accomplishment in history." Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend a gathering in Beijing on February 25 to mark the country's accomplishments in poverty eradication.
It was the result of the implementation of systematic policies that lasted decades and were intensified in the last eight years. After the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress in late 2012, progress was remarkable. An average of more than 10 million people have been brought out of poverty per year since then. The human-centered approach has been combined with tailored measures according to needs of families and the capacity of their villages.
A new journey starts with optimism but is full with challenges and difficulties for China. The consolidation of the success could be more complicated than the goal itself. The continuation of the pandemic and persisting risks such as climate change and food insecurity could lead to setbacks. The first priority of the Chinese Government is to ensure that families will not slip back to poverty. Although the Chinese economy returned to growth last year and the number of world COVID-19 cases has gradually decreased since the beginning of the new year, there are several unknown factors that are still jeopardizing a full return to normalcy. The asymmetric vaccination process across the globe along with the limited will to adopt common rules for a smooth resumption of tourism make precise predictions hard.
While safeguarding prior achievements, the Chinese Government is expected to act in order to reduce inequalities in society. The eradication of poverty does not mean that the level of fairness Xi is envisaging for China's future has been obtained. Gaps in salaries and pensions, for example, constitute a problem. Additionally, those who have left their villages to work in cities often need time to adjust to new living conditions. Their children, in particular, need to enjoy special education treatment.
The Chinese Government, Xi believes, has to meet the people's expectation for a better life. This was the title of a speech he gave in 2017 when he addressed a meeting with world political parties. In the last two years, Chinese citizens have witnessed an increase in their personal income. Specifically, the per-capita disposable income of residents was 30,733 yuan ($4,461.9) in 2019 and 32,189 yuan ($4,961) in 2020. People, who have been removed from poverty, are grateful but could expect a new boost in their lives.
The improvement of infrastructure, public services and living conditions in China cannot alone provide solutions and set the way forward. What is required is an ambitious modernization plan that will empower the competitiveness in Chinese regions that lag behind. Rural areas, for instance, need special support as they have experienced much higher poverty rates in comparison to urban ones. Against this backdrop, China has unveiled a document for 2021 that calls for strengthening homegrown breeding systems and maximizing the use of new technologies in agriculture. The Chinese Government prioritizes the well-being of people but does not act as an endless producer of liquidity. On the contrary, it links the economic and technical assistance it provides to citizens to specific criteria and measures productivity results in the medium and long term.
In today's turbulent world leadership matters. China is a country that showcases technology prowess along with characteristics immanent in developing economies. Xi strives to achieve a balance between the giant steps that have rendered China a colossus on the international stage and the everyday care of responding to the needs of citizens. The fight is continuous and exceeds the boundaries of the country. As Xi said at the World Economic Forum Virtual Event of the Davos Agenda in January, China will further deepen South-South cooperation and contribute to the endeavor of developing countries to eradicate poverty.
The world cannot have a single winner. Countries are winning together the battle against poverty. China sets the rhythm in a spirit of common prosperity and equality.
The author is EU-China Program director at the Centre International de Formation Européenne
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