HONG KONG – In the past eight years, some 100 million people in rural China have been lifted out of poverty, a sign of economic progress trumpeted by President Xi Jinping.
Xi launched an initiative after taking power in 2012 that helped China surpass the World Bank’s 2030 goal of eradicating extreme poverty. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), described the elimination of poverty as “historic leap. “
Xi “has stood at the strategic height of building a wealthy society comprehensively,” the newspaper said. The report underscored the value of propaganda for Xi in an economic breakthrough that some say could be based, in part, on faking the numbers.
In a ceremony Thursday broadcast to millions by state media, Xi said China has invested 1.6 trillion yuan, or about $ 246 billion, in the fight against poverty over the past eight years.
“I insisted on looking at real poverty, understanding real efforts to reduce poverty, helping those in real poverty and achieving real poverty reduction,” Xi said, highlighting his personal involvement in the program. .
“The 98.99 million people who make up the rural poor have been lifted out of poverty,” said Xi, who has accumulated more personal power than any leader since Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong.
Translating the statistics into human terms, Xi said those people no longer had to worry about being able to afford food and clothing – the so-called “two worries” – and that the government would also respect its standards. “Three guarantees” of health care and housing. and education.
Xi credited the party leadership and the Chinese political system as “the fundamental safeguards against risks, challenges and hardships.”
In a “No. 1 policy document “released on Sunday, China pledged to maintain its poverty reduction policies, while making some adjustments for a five-year transition to what Beijing calls” rural revitalization. ”
The next steps include the consolidation and expansion of “poverty reduction achievements” in line with the policy. Experts quoted by the official Chinese tabloid, the Global Times, say a key issue is improving the ability of people in poor rural areas to meet their needs.
In the past, road construction was a government-backed project that provided jobs, and future projects could include water projects to improve agricultural processing and transportation, experts said.
Beijing continues to use world Bank standards for the world’s poorest nations, even though it’s classified as an upper middle class country.
China defines extreme rural poverty as an annual per capita income of less than $ 620, or about $ 1.69 per day at current exchange rates, according to Reuters.
This compares to the World Bank’s overall threshold of $ 1.90 per day.
“In 2021… measuring progress using official poverty lines for the world’s poorest countries as a benchmark can be the very definition of underperformance,” wrote Brookings Institution economist Indermit Gill.
The ceremony “and associated party propaganda is aimed at portraying Xi Jinping as the victorious commander leading China to success in its millennial battle against poverty and enabling it to personally claim credit for this achievement,” Fordham Law professor Carl Minzner A school specializing in Chinese law and governance said Bloomberg.
“This will have dramatic ramifications in terms of Xi’s personal power, the extent to which a cult of personality around Xi will be tacitly or directly encouraged,” he said.
Xi and state media have remained largely silent on more than four decades of market-type economic reforms that began with the opening China to foreign investments after the Cultural Revolution.
At the close of 2020, Martin Raiser of the World Bank told the New York Times: “We are fairly sure that China’s eradication of absolute poverty in rural areas has been successful – given the resources mobilized, we are less sure whether it is sustainable or profitable.”
The government has subsidized jobs for rural workers with poverty reduction projects, gave animals to farmers and injected money into poor provinces with loans and grants, according to the Times.
Money flows through China’s rural subsistence allowance system on the basis of an application, its review and approval, and the distribution of funds, a process that goes through the three basic levels. of China’s rural governance – village in township in county.
Rural households apply for grants by providing municipal officials with household registration, disability documentation and approval from their village governments. The paperwork goes to administrative offices at the base level such as the civil affairs department.
Township officials review applications and submit them to county-level government officials for approval.
If approved, an applicant’s money is distributed on a monthly basis to a designated account in a rural bank or credit union, which does not charge a management fee. Each recipient receives an allocation card that functions like a debit card, allowing cash to be withdrawn as needed.
Temporary or one-off subsidies – such as those granted for holidays – are paid to households in full if all conditions are met.
Huang Xiaomin, a human rights activist in Chengdu, Sichuan province, told VOA Mandarin that in some places the records used by Xi and other senior officials can be inflated.
In Sichuan Province, for example, many residents of Heshu Town, Peng’an County, appear to have received social security and health care benefits. But, said the activist, the reality is different because several people in the same family share the money that arrives in the form of cash payment or bank transfer.
According to Huang, the minimum one-month living allowance for a person is around $ 42 to $ 56. When shared between four or five family members from the same household, each person received about $ 11, he said.
“It is certainly not enough to get out of poverty. But under pressure from the government, [unless the poor people] sign their name to say that everyone has received the full amount, they will not receive any money, “he told VOA’s Mandarin service.” So there is definitely adulteration.
Xi’s message on Thursday contrasts with a statement by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last May.
“There is more of 600 million people whose monthly income is barely 1,000 yuan (140 USD), not enough to rent a room in Chinese cities, ”he said at his annual press conference.
Xia Ming, professor of political science at New York City University, said he now expects CCP loyalists to echo Xi’s questionable claims about the success of poverty reduction efforts. in China, and may be working to generate supporting evidence.
“Because Xi Jinping wants to focus on poverty reduction as his main job, of course officials at all levels and propaganda departments would desperately try to put feathers in his cap,” he said. .
Ahead of Thursday’s ceremony, several Chinese state news outlets described poverty reduction as “an epic image of China’s anti-poverty campaign.”
Wu Qiang, a former professor in the political department of Tsinghua University, told VOA that Xi’s statement shows that he has nothing else to stress during his eight years in office. He said declaring the end of poverty is one way to maintain stability in the face of income inequality.
In the past, anti-poverty campaigns in China, such as increasing spending on rural schools and health care, aimed to close the gap between a visible minority who had benefited from economic reform and the majority of people who did not, according to the Associated press.
“In the free market economy, China’s rich and poor are divided to an unprecedented degree,” Wu said. “… Xi’s efforts to reduce poverty are in fact for political security and Need for Stability Xi’s publicity is in fact to show other Party leaders that he has the ability to solve urgent problems of instability through poverty reduction and prevent the potential impact on the Party.
Adrianna Zhang and Jing Zhang from Mandarin VOA contributed to this report.