Tackle the Most Challenging Tasks in Poverty Alleviation in Post-Covid-19
At a symposium in March on securing a decisive victory in the fight against poverty, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that to lift all rural residents living below the current poverty line out of poverty by 2020 is a pledge that the CPC Central Committee has made to the people of China; it must be fulfilled on time, without any backtracking or compromise. He further stated that in a tough battle such as this, it is all the more important to double down on our efforts as we enter the closing stages. We cannot afford to take time off, become careless, or sit back and relax. Everyone must fulfill their duties and accomplish their missions if we are to overcome the impact of Covid-19, achieve our poverty alleviation objectives and see all poor areas and people still living in poverty join the rest of the country in achieving moderate prosperity.
I. Accurately analyzing the poverty alleviation situation
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has made the eradication of poverty an ultimate task and an important symbol of China's endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and fight a nationwide battle against poverty. This endeavor is unprecedented in terms of its intensity, scale, and impact. Through seven years of unremitting efforts, a complete poverty alleviation system has been established, the basic strategy of precision poverty alleviation and reduction has won the full support of the Chinese people, and the questions of who should receive assistance, how and by whom it should be provided, and how best to discontinue assistance when it is no longer needed have been largely resolved. The awareness and cohesive action of all CPC members and the whole of society have allowed us to make decisive achievements. The number of people living in poverty decreased from 98.99 million at the end of 2012 to 5.51 million at the end of 2019. The poverty headcount ratio fell from 10.2 to 0.6 percent. The number of poor villages went down from 128,700 to 2,707, and the number of poor counties dropped from 832 to 52. Significant improvements in quality have been achieved in efforts to assure the rural poor population that their food and clothing needs will be met ("two assurances"), while salient problems in guaranteeing their access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing ("three guarantees") have been largely resolved. The major longstanding problems that have made it so hard for people in poor areas to travel, attend school, receive medical attention, access safe drinking water and electricity, and communicate with the world have finally been fully solved.
This aerial photograph taken on March 8, 2020 shows a resettlement area in Pengcun Village, Renshou County, Sichuan Province and the industries that have subsequently developed there. Relocation has been the most direct and effective means of addressing poverty in inhospitable areas. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY PAN SHUAI
China's poverty alleviation endeavor has brought tremendous changes to the work and living conditions of people in poor areas. Infrastructure and public services have been greatly improved. Distinctive local industries have seen steady development. Consistent improvements have been made to the ecological environments of poor areas, and the development capacity and vitality of these areas has been significantly enhanced. The development gap between poor areas and the rest of the country is also narrowing, as evidenced by the fact that annual growth of per capita disposable income in poor rural areas is 2.2 percentage points higher than that in rural China as a whole. By coordinating overall economic and social development around poverty, poor areas have opened new prospects for development. Take Lankao County in Henan Province for example. A poor county for years, Lankao had almost 100,000 poor residents at the end of 2012. After the 18th CPC National Congress, the county began to coordinate overall economic and social development around poverty alleviation. It has diligently implemented the basic strategy of precision poverty alleviation and reduction, and established a mechanism in which poverty alleviation is led by the county officials, with the public also taking part. Lankao County shook off poverty in 2016, and its ranking in GDP moved up over 16 other counties in Henan Province.
The fundamental changes in poor areas are also evident in other ways. By using Party building as a means to promote poverty alleviation, primary-level Party organizations in poor areas have been strengthened, and primary-level officials have significantly improved their ability to identify poverty and provide targeted assistance. China has assigned more than 2.9 million officials from Party and government bodies at the county level and above and from state-owned enterprises and public institutions to serve as first secretaries of Party branches and officials in villages that are impoverished or lack capacity and organization. In the response to Covid-19, primary-level officials in poor areas have shown strong competence, and village-based work teams have turned themselves into effective epidemic-fighting forces. With the extensive participation of all sectors of society, we have launched paired assistance programs to encourage people to overcome poverty through their own efforts and hard work, thus creating a positive atmosphere of compassion and improvement while also promoting core socialist values.
China's great achievements in the field of poverty alleviation have highlighted the political strengths of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, effectively promoted sustained, healthy economic and social development and large-scale poverty reduction, and offered Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to the cause of global poverty reduction. The most fundamental element of China's success has been its strong leadership core. As the core of the CPC Central Committee and the CPC as a whole, General Secretary Xi Jinping has always placed poverty alleviation high on the governance agenda. He has personally studied, planned, and overseen the fight against poverty and led CPC Party secretaries across five levels from province, city, county, township to village in working together to maintain the right course and positive momentum in the fight against poverty. Furthermore, he has ensured high-quality outcomes in poverty alleviation by insisting on a goal-, problem-, and results-oriented approach.
Clear goals and tasks. All people living below the current poverty line will be lifted out of poverty by 2020, and poverty will be eliminated in all poor counties and in all poor regions as a whole. These goals fit with the realities of economic and social development in China and the basic requirements for building a moderately prosperous society.
A sound basic strategy. The basic strategy of precision poverty alleviation and reduction is the fruit of long-term explorations by General Secretary Xi, and it represents a major innovation in China's poverty alleviation theory and practice. This strategy is not only a sound method for eradicating poverty but also a basic requirement for many tasks at present.
Extraordinary policy measures. An array of measures, including fiscal, financial, land, education, medical, scientific and technological, human resource and infrastructure construction polices, have been introduced and are having powerful combined effect.
Society-wide synergy. Primary responsibility for poverty alleviation rests with the central and western regions, while the eastern region is responsible for providing assistance. Competent departments are responsible for their respective sectors, and Party, government and military bodies, state-owned enterprises and public institutions are charged with assisting targeted poor areas, while private enterprises, social organizations, and individual citizens are fulfilling their relevant social responsibilities.
An oversight mechanism for pinpointing and fixing problems. The CPC Central Committee has carried out special poverty alleviation inspections. Other political parties have conducted democratic oversight of poverty alleviation, and the State Council Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development has conducted routine inspections, while audit-based oversight and public oversight have also been effectively enforced. Through these efforts, specific problems are identified in a timely manner and solutions are applied across the board to ensure sustained progress.
A strict evaluation system. We have carried out rigorous evaluations of the poverty alleviation outcomes of provincial-level CPC committees and governments, cooperation on poverty alleviation between eastern and western regions, and assistance for targeted poor areas from central Party and government departments, offices of other political parties, as well as state-owned enterprises and public institutions. These measures have kept poverty alleviation work oriented toward achieving solid results.
The success achieved, the experience gained, and the mechanisms put in place over the past seven years have created a solid foundation for the decisive battle to overcome poverty this year. At the same time, we must also be clear that the difficulties and challenges we face in turning our decisive achievements into an overall victory cannot be underestimated. The tasks before us are still both complex and formidable.
The new challenges brought by Covid-19. The Covid-19 epidemic has prevented poor workers from migrating to the cities for employment, leaving some of them out of work and without wages for between one and three months. The epidemic has hampered the production and business operations of poor households, and the general falloff in production and consumption has affected industry-based efforts to alleviate poverty and increase incomes. The start dates for poverty reduction projects have also been delayed. In previous years, poverty reduction projects typically began after the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities (usually in early or mid-February), but start dates on all projects this year were postponed.
A beekeeper is tending a hive in a canola field in Lianfeng Village, Shi'an Town, Liangping District, Chongqing, March 8, 2020. Developing industries is the key to eradicating poverty. There are currently more than 60 households in the town that are using beekeeping as a means of moving out of poverty and toward prosperity. PHOTO BY CHINA NEWS SERVICE (CNS) REPORTER LIU HUI
The immensity of the remaining poverty alleviation tasks. There remain 52 poor counties and 2,707 impoverished villages in China, and 5.51 million people have yet to be lifted out of poverty. These counties, villages and people are mainly located in extremely impoverished areas. Although the figures are small compared to those of the past, they include the most extreme levels of poverty and hardship.
The difficult task of consolidating poverty relief accomplishments. Of the people who have risen out of poverty, almost two million are in danger of falling back in. Of those living on the margins of poverty, nearly three million are at risk of becoming poor. For nearly ten million people who have been relocated from poor inhospitable areas, it remains a formidable task to ensure their stable livelihood and prosperity. Consolidating the achievements made in ensuring the "three guarantees" is also a task we cannot take lightly.
Outstanding problems in poverty alleviation to be tackled. In some areas, the focus of work has shifted away from poverty alleviation, with commitment and enthusiasm waning among officials. Formalities for formalities' sake and bureaucratic practices are recurrent, and deception and the manipulation of numbers continue to occur. There is a lack of internal drive for development among a segment of the poor population.
II. Resolutely overcoming the impact of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic is the greatest uncertainty affecting poverty alleviation at present. Completing the tasks of poverty alleviation against such a backdrop poses a huge test for China, which will ultimately demonstrate our country's political strengths. We must firmly act on the principles established at the March symposium on securing a decisive victory in poverty alleviation, taking proactive steps to transform our work methods and making strong moves toward systematic progress in line with the policies and plans of the CPC Central Committee, in an effort to minimize the losses resulting from the virus. We must make up for lost time and ensure we complete the goals and tasks of poverty alleviation to a high standard.
Establishing an epidemic analysis and response mechanism. We are conducting weekly analysis and studies via poverty alleviation systems to gauge the impact of the epidemic on poverty alleviation work. On this basis, response measures are being taken in conjunction with the introduction of support policies by relevant departments. We have arranged all officials, who had been assigned to be in charge of poverty reduction in the villages, to take up their posts there to ensure that Covid-19 control and poverty alleviation proceed smoothly. We monitor and regularly coordinate poverty alleviation work and urge all local authorities to carry out related tasks in a solid and meticulous manner.
Assisting poor migrant workers in securing employment. Preference will be given to poor migrant workers during recruitment for major national projects. Using mechanisms for collaboration in poverty reduction between the eastern and western regions, we have made arrangements for poor migrant workers to be transported directly from their rural homes to the places where they get employed, and we are encouraging the eastern region to make a bigger contribution to ensuring stable employment for migrant workers and the western region to do a good job of organizing, mobilizing and providing services. To support the reopening of leading poverty alleviation enterprises and workshops focused on poverty alleviation, the government is raising the proportion of funding accounting for salaries in work-relief programs from 10 to 15 percent. It will also channel 80 percent of the proceeds from village photovoltaic power stations toward the creation of public-benefit employment, and create more forest warden and road maintenance positions to provide employment opportunities for people in, or close to, their hometowns.
Helping poor households develop business operations. We will provide guidance for spring plowing, improve the distribution of agricultural supplies and the supply of products to markets, and ensure that the alleviation of poverty is not delayed during the spring farming season. Small poverty relief loans that cannot be repaid due to the epidemic will be extended for one year, and approval procedures for new loans will be accelerated to promptly meet new demand. We will strengthen training for leaders of entrepreneurial and prosperity-creation initiatives in poor villages, so that they can lead their local communities in expanding production.
Launching programs to boost consumption of products from poor areas. We will better align production, marketing and e-commerce in poor areas with programs to ensure the security of the "rice bag" (grain supply) and "vegetable basket" (meat, egg and vegetable supply) in the eastern region and in cities. We will make arrangements for the western region to accredit products from poor areas and encourage the purchase of these products in the eastern region and by central Party and government departments, offices of other political parties, as well as state-owned enterprises and public institutions. By working with budget departments, developing markets for products from poor areas, and encouraging the involvement of all types of enterprises and society as a whole, we will resolve any difficulties poor areas have in selling their products.
Two young women of the Dong ethnic group use a live streaming platform to promote Sanjiang tea from Buyang Village, Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, March 14, 2020. While the fight against the epidemic has been going on, a number of localities have launched campaigns centered on alleviating poverty through consumption, using e-commerce to expand sales channels and exploring a number of channels to solve difficulties encountered in selling agricultural products. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY WU LIANXUN
Implementing poverty reduction projects at a faster speed. We will make adjustments to improve the repository of poverty alleviation projects, and change the way poverty reduction funds are used, to simplify procedures and improve efficiency. We will promote the progress of poverty relief projects and enhance public service levels in order to keep improving work and living conditions in poor areas and for people in poverty.
Supporting the poverty alleviation efforts of Hubei Province. The central fiscal authorities have weighted poverty alleviation funds and land policies toward Hubei Province. We have launched labor coordination programs between Hubei and Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, and Guangdong, and are encouraging the eastern region and central Party and government departments, offices of other political parties, as well as state-owned enterprises and public institutions to buy agricultural products from Hubei.
An aerial view of Zhufu Road – one of China's many well built, managed, maintained, and operated rural roads – in Fuzu Village, Taihe County, Jiangxi Province, January 22, 2020. The construction of rural roads has not only improved transportation conditions for residents of impoverished areas, but also paved the way out of poverty and toward prosperity and rural vitalization. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY DENG HEPING
On April 10 this year, 23.53 million poor migrant workers were engaged in employment around China, which is 86 percent of last year's total and 34 percentage points higher than the figure on March 6; work on 74.1 percent of poverty reduction projects had started, 42 percentage points higher than the figure on March 6; 97.2 percent of leading poverty alleviation enterprises had reopened, 15 percentage points higher than on March 6; 96 percent of workshops focused on poverty alleviation had restarted operations, 33 percentage points higher than on March 6; 22 provinces in the central and western regions had accredited 36,396 products from poor areas with a total commercial value of 248.1 billion yuan; and 9 provinces and cities in the eastern region had spent 2.7 billion yuan on products from poor areas. From these figures, it is clear that Covid-19's impact on poverty alleviation work is gradually being overcome and that the epidemic will not alter the larger picture of poverty alleviation in China.
III. Securing success in the battle against extreme poverty
General Secretary Xi has stressed that eradicating extreme poverty is the toughest challenge in the poverty alleviation drive. We must fully recognize the scale, importance, and urgency of the task to eliminate poverty in deeply impoverished areas. We need to provide more concentrated support and take more effective and forceful measures to ensure solid progress in areas of extreme poverty.
Areas of extreme poverty are mostly located in old revolutionary base areas, ethnic minority areas, and border regions, where issues relating to environmental conditions, social and economic development, and religion and ethnicity coexist. This makes the task of eradicating poverty much harder. As conditions in these areas are harsh, ecosystems fragile, and natural disasters frequent, construction is expensive and difficult, which makes improving infrastructure and public services an onerous task. These areas are located far from regional economic centers, at the end of economic chains, where it is hard to effectively connect to markets. As a result, they have lagged behind economically for a long time. These areas have also traditionally been closed off from outside, which has left them trailing in terms of social development. Examples include areas in Nujiang in Yunnan and Liangshan in Sichuan which are home to ethnic groups that directly transitioned from primitive social systems to a socialist society after the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. These communities are finding it extremely difficult to eliminate poverty and consolidate the results of poverty alleviation.
In order to tackle China's remaining outposts of extreme poverty, Xi Jinping chaired a conference on eliminating poverty in extremely impoverished areas on June 6, 2017 in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, at which comprehensive plans were made to increase funding, projects, and measures for tackling extreme poverty, the bulk of which were focused on extremely impoverished areas. A total of 49 policy documents have been issued by 28 departments in support of efforts to tackle extreme poverty, and local governments have coalesced and channeled all types of resources toward extremely poor areas. The six provinces and autonomous regions which are home to the three regions and three prefectures (The three regions refer to Tibet, the four southern Xinjiang prefectures of Hotan, Aksu, Kashi, and Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture of Kizilsu, and the Tibetan ethnic areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces; and the three prefectures refer to Liangshan in Sichuan, Nujiang in Yunnan, and Linxia in Gansu) have formulated and executed a plan for eliminating poverty in extremely impoverished areas. By the end of 2019, progress on tackling poverty had accelerated significantly, with over 95 percent of the funding planned for the three years from 2018 to 2020 put in place and over 85 percent of projects completed. Meanwhile, the poor population in 2019 had been reduced to 430,000 from 3,050,000 two years earlier, with the poverty headcount ratio dropping to 2 percent from 14.6 percent.
In 2020, with a focus on salient problems in extremely poor areas, we need to pool strength to eliminate extreme poverty in a well-planned and effective way. We need to accelerate progress on the implementation plan for tackling extreme poverty in the three regions and three prefectures, mobilize the resources of all sectors in a sustained and concentrated effort to tackle extreme poverty in these areas, and convene on-site meetings to resolve problems on the spot. The State Council Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development has listed the 52 remaining poor counties and 1,113 poor villages for supervision, and has also organized paired support from private enterprises and social organizations for these poor villages. Provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under central leadership that have counties or villages listed for supervision under their jurisdiction are mobilizing various resources, taking special measures, and making extra efforts to ensure they achieve their poverty alleviation tasks.
IV. Prioritizing the consolidation of achievements in poverty alleviation
Poverty alleviation is an ongoing fight. People who have cast off poverty may fall back in because of disaster, illness, disability or because of business failures or unstable employment. There are also large numbers of people on the margins of poverty who could possibly slip in. It is unavoidable that some will fall back into poverty, but we must prevent this from occurring on a large scale. Since the launch of China's all-out battle against poverty, we have put great effort into consolidating progress, taking many measures that have been a considerable success. In recent years, the number of people falling back into poverty has decreased by a large margin, falling from 683,000 in 2016 to 208,000 in 2017, 58,000 in 2018, and 5,500 in 2019. For 2020, as we are working to ensure the remaining registered poor population bids farewell to poverty, we must also make it a priority to prevent people from falling back into poverty.
Keeping poverty alleviation policies stable. Poverty alleviation policies will remain largely unchanged for poor counties and people after they exit poverty, and the levels of support and effort will remain the same. To ensure help is on hand, village-based work teams will remain in place and collaboration on poverty alleviation between the eastern and western regions will be deepened, and central Party and government departments, offices of other political parties, as well as state-owned enterprises and public institutions will be encouraged to give stronger assistance to targeted poor areas. We will intensify efforts to tackle poverty through the development of industry and employment and help people living in poverty to keep sources of income stable. We will strengthen follow-up support for people who have been relocated from inhospitable areas, with a focus on fixing problems relating to industry and employment, basic public services, community governance, and social integration, so as to make sure the process of relocating, settling down, finding employment, and moving toward prosperity is successful. We will allocate funding to help the poor people in counties and villages which are not designated poor units to ensure no blind spots arise in poverty alleviation campaign.
Increasing people's confidence in their ability to overcome poverty and developing their skills to do so. People in poverty are more than just targets of poverty alleviation work, they are the main actors who make it happen. Tackling absolute poverty now and relative poverty going forward must rely on the efforts of the people who are struggling with poverty. We will reduce direct monetary and material assistance to people who have the ability to work, instead encouraging them to participate in poverty reduction programs that will generate incomes through the development of industry. To prevent assistance polices from breeding indolence, we will explore ways to provide material and immaterial rewards, to boost people's motivation and initiative in fighting poverty. We will give play to village regulations and community agreements to effectively deal with issues such as antiquated, undesirable customs and failures to provide for the livelihoods of elderly people.
Establishing a monitoring and assistance mechanism to prevent people from falling back into poverty. We must enhance monitoring of households that remain in a precarious position after exiting poverty, are on the margins of poverty, or have experienced a sharp fall in income due to the Covid-19 epidemic or any other reason, so that tailored assistance can be provided ahead of time. For people on the margins of poverty who have the ability to work, we will provide micro-loans with discounted interest, skills training, and public-benefit job opportunities.
V. Using a combination of measures to improve the quality of poverty alleviation
Quality as well as quantity needs to be a consideration in poverty alleviation. We will adopt an array of measures to improve the quality of poverty alleviation, so that our accomplishments stand the test of time and win people's approval.
Adhering to the standards on poverty alleviation. In addressing the problem of absolute poverty, we have set the poverty alleviation standard that the "two assurances" and the "three guarantees" are provided for everyone. For thousands of years, the lack of food and adequate clothing has been the crux of absolute poverty, and now we have added the "three guarantees" of education, medical care and safe housing to assuring adequate food and clothing. This is the standard we must uphold for as long as we are fighting absolute poverty. We cannot disregard reality and raise standards beyond what is achievable, nor should we allow deception or accept lower standards that will impair quality.
Countering laxity and indolence. Recently, we have seen a sharp falloff in the levels of attention and effort some localities give to poverty alleviation once they achieve their targets. In some areas, funding for poverty alleviation is plummeting, the incomes of people who have newly exited poverty are stagnant or even falling, and some first secretaries and village-based work teams are no longer to be found at their posts once poverty alleviation targets have been met. Such cases of people abandoning their station, passing off responsibility, putting their feet up, and switching off must be rectified. We must strictly adhere to the requirement that when we end poverty, we will not end any of the responsibility, support, or oversight.
Carrying out strict inspections. In 2020, poverty alleviation inspection and efficacy evaluations will be carried out along with routine supervision and guidance to promptly identify and resolve problems. Spot checks will be conducted in counties where eradication of poverty has been announced to ensure that high standards are maintained. A nationwide survey of poverty alleviation will be undertaken to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of results.
Strengthening conduct. It is important to first recognize that conduct in the area of poverty alleviation has been generally good. The achievement of lifting 93 million people out of poverty has come through the solid, honest efforts of countless officials involved in poverty alleviation. They have given their sweat, blood, and tragically, in some cases, even their lives to this endeavor. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that pointless formalities, bureaucratic practices, the manipulation of numbers, and deception still exist in poverty alleviation work. Such behaviors are not only hindering progress but hurting the image of the CPC and the government. For this reason, we need to carry out a special campaign to address corruption and conduct problems in poverty alleviation and do more to ease the burden on people working at the primary level. While continuing training officials of poverty alleviation as an on-going task, we will conduct a full round of training for each group of officials newly assigned to villages and those newly appointed village officials, so as to improve their ability to carry out precision poverty reduction and alleviation.
Liu Yongfu is Minister of the State Council Office for Poverty Alleviation and Development and Secretary of its CPC Leadership Group.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 9, 2020)