Pave Roads for All to Reach Prosperity
The most arduous tasks associated with achieving moderate prosperity throughout Chinese society are those in rural areas, particularly impoverished rural areas. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in 2012, President Xi Jinping has focused firmly on poverty alleviation through the development of transport, and he personally formulated and promoted the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative (which seeks to guarantee that roads in rural areas are well built, managed, maintained, and operated), issuing important instructions, and taking an interest in whether ordinary rural people have good roads outside their front doors. President Xi has emphasized the need to eliminate transport bottlenecks restricting rural development to better ensure rural residents can extricate themselves from poverty and achieve moderate prosperity. The Ministry of Transport is dedicated to the task of alleviating poverty by developing transportation and to achieving the promise not to leave any location behind in achieving moderate prosperity as a result of difficulties in transport.
I. The maxim "building roads is the first step to prosperity" still holds true.
The popular maxim in China that "building roads is the first step to prosperity" not only acknowledges the practice of building roads to improve local economies, it also reflects a yearning for a better future. In September 2016, in his guidelines for transport work, President Xi stressed that this maxim still holds true. Eradicating poverty and achieving prosperity depend on development, and the antecedent to development is transport. The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative has achieved tangible social and economic improvements in rural areas, especially impoverished areas.
Enriching rural industry
When roads open, industries flourish. Many impoverished areas do not suffer from a lack of resources, but rather from a lack of businesses due to their inaccessibility. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the poverty alleviation model of promoting both transport and local specialty industries has received vigorous support, with roads being built around industries and industries being built around roads, so as to create external links, reduce transport costs, and attract businesses. Building such roads can develop industry which, in turn, enriches the people. In recent years, impoverished counties that have promoted the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative have developed a range of specialty industries and small towns with distinct features. As more and more roads connect small towns with distinct features, like links in a chain, local people are finding that the road to prosperity is outside their front door.
Enriching rural commerce
The construction of transport infrastructure can have a transformational effect, especially in impoverished areas of China. Replacing a zip line with a bridge or building a road provides an opportunity for people to eradicate poverty and acquire wealth. Without road connectivity, trade will not thrive. Some impoverished areas are struggling even though they are sitting on a gold mine. Their fruit trees are heavy with fruit, but they are rotting on the branches. Since 2012, as part of the plan to alleviate poverty by developing transport, there has been strong support for the construction of rural logistics systems, integrated development of transportation and e-commerce, and the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative to connect farms with customers, so as to closely link poor areas with major markets throughout China and effectively utilize the resources of impoverished areas. With connectivity to markets, there has been no difficulty selling agricultural products, and better-quality products have been able to sell for a higher price. In this way, goods from the mountains have entered the cities, and goods from the cities have entered the mountains. Going to market in the city in the morning and returning home to work in the afternoon has become commonplace. Reciprocal flows of people, goods, capital, and information between urban and rural areas have increased, and people have naturally become better off. For example, people in the city of Hailun in Heilongjiang Province have employed the model of developing transport to alleviate poverty in order to get their specialty products, such as ground cherries, onions, and black wood ear mushrooms, to large markets across China. Their agricultural products and subsidiary products have made the gradual transition from "growing well" to "selling well," helping the farmers to increase their incomes and become better off.
An aerial photo taken on May 12, 2020 shows the road to Danong Village in Tonglian Yao Township, Rongshui Miao Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Efforts to alleviate poverty by developing transportation have allowed impoverished areas to bid farewell to travel difficulties. Between 2016 and 2019, Tonglian Yao Township built a total of 48 roads, connecting 108 villages and providing paved roads to 49 villages each with 20 or more families. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER HUANG XIAOBANG
Enriching rural entrepreneurship
The key to achieving moderate prosperity is focusing on rural areas. The inequality between China's urban and rural areas is longstanding. This means that the countryside is the weak link in efforts to achieve moderate prosperity throughout society, as travelling to cities for work has become the predominant choice of rural people looking to generate income. Roads are fundamental to rural affluence. Since 2012, the year the 18th CPC National Congress was held, the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative has created a road network that has largely reduced the spatial and temporal distance between urban and rural areas, profoundly changed production and living conditions and the social appearance of the countryside, encouraged the rural population to switch to industry and the service sector, and greatly promoted the transformation from an agricultural society to a modern society.
Enriching rural culture
To enrich one's pockets, one must first enrich one's mind. Many impoverished mountainous areas are cut off from modern civilization due to impassable roads. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the policy of alleviating poverty by developing transportation, particularly the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative, has connected hitherto isolated and inaccessible villages to modern society by road. Flows of people and goods have facilitated flows of knowledge, information, and capital which, in turn, have promoted the spread of knowledge, had a civilizing influence, led to cultural exchanges and an evolution of customs, helped people increase confidence in their ability to lift themselves out of poverty and ensured they have access to the education they need to do so. This has enabled the cultivation of modern professional farming population and promoted the modernization of people. It has also provided a solid guarantee for most rural residents to grow prosperous through knowledge and culture. It has been proven through practice that building roads allows people to prosper, businesses to thrive, and horizons to expand.
Enriching rural ecology
The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative has helped turn the green waters and hills of China's rural areas gold. This is especially true of areas suitable for tourism, which have seen their natural beauty, cared for by their ancestors for generations, become scenic spots for tourists. Many local people's wallets have swollen after opening farm-stays and bed and breakfasts and offering agricultural tours. It is thanks to the introduction of roads that the beauty of deep mountain landscapes has become a sought-after ecological product. For example, thanks to the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative, people of the Eijin Horo Banner in Inner Mongolia have been able to offer various themed tours, including cultural experience tours, grassland tours, urban leisure tours, village ecological tours, and hiking adventure tours as well as visits to eight demonstration villages, including Subul and Bulag, achieving tourism revenue of RMB 4.62 billion in 2018, an increase of 15.5%, and helping people become better off.
Helping resume rural production
Transportation is the forerunner to resuming production. The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 interrupted transportation in many areas of China, especially impoverished areas, with migrant workers unable to travel out to cities to work and agricultural supplies and machinery unable to get in to rural areas, which meant spring farming could not be carried out. All of this has severely affected poverty alleviation efforts. To ensure migrant workers can return to work speedily and production and everyday life can continue in an orderly manner, the transportation system has provided point-to-point service using chartered buses, trains and planes, which have made a total of 190,000 trips and allowed more than 4.8 million migrant workers to return to work safely and quickly by transporting them from the doors of their homes to the gates of factories. The shipment of spring agricultural production materials, machinery and equipment has been incorporated into the emergency transportation green channel, to ensure the transportation of materials needed for spring farming, to promote orderly flows of people and goods in impoverished areas, to connect production, supply and marketing, and to integrate domestic and foreign trade, thereby helping rural people in impoverished areas shake off poverty as soon as possible and reach moderate prosperity.
The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative includes not only rural roads, but also expressways and national and provincial trunk roads, as well as railways, waterways, air routes, and postal roads in poor areas. It has been proven through practice that promoting poverty alleviation by developing transportation, and particularly by implementing the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative, is the key to easing the economic and social development bottleneck in impoverished areas and the first step in decisively overcoming poverty and achieving moderate prosperity throughout society.
II. Transportation poverty alleviation is delivering historic change to rural China and particularly impoverished areas.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has achieved decisive success in alleviating poverty by developing transportation. In 2019, it fulfilled the twin objectives of 100% connectivity via hard roads and 100% postal service coverage for towns and administrative villages with the requisite conditions. Xiaojin, Heishui, Yangtang, and Seda counties in Sichuan Province and Anyuan County in Jiangxi Province, which were targeted for poverty alleviation by the Ministry of Transport, have shaken off poverty, and 55 of the 61 counties in the Liupanshan region have overcome poverty thanks to the ministry's coordination. A transportation network consisting of "internal and external road links, roads between villages, bus access to villages, and safe and convenient travel" has basically been completed, providing meaningful support for rural areas, especially impoverished areas, to extricate themselves from poverty and achieve moderate prosperity.
The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative has brought social and economic improvements to impoverished areas. This image taken on April 6, 2020 shows rural roads in Chengshan Village, Yi'an District, Tongling, Anhui Province that stretch out in all directions, effectively linking the city and the countryside. PHOTO BY CNS REPORTER CHEN LEI
Opening transport arteries
The popular saying "building roads is the first step to prosperity, and building bigger roads is a quicker way to prosperity" illustrates the significance building major transport arteries has on alleviating poverty and enriching the people. Since 2012, in accordance with the requirement of connecting with the outside world and linking up internal localities, significant efforts have been made to connect impoverished areas to transport arteries. A total of 35,000 km of new railway has been added, of which, 21,000 km is high-speed rail. As part of the plan to alleviate poverty by developing transportation, 112,000 km of national and provincial trunk roads have been built, including 28,000 km of expressways. This has connected numerous dead-end roads and cleared out bottlenecks, and ensured that essentially all county seats nationwide are serviced by roads of class 2 or better. Since the launch of the 13th Five-Year Plan in 2016, 1,962 km of inland waterways have been newly built or renovated, and a further 870 km are under construction, while 79 new dock berths have been built. Twelve airports have been put into service under the plan to alleviate poverty by developing transportation, with 2 more under construction. There are currently 12.2 million km of postal routes (one-way) covering China.
Facilitating "microcirculation" means achieving unimpeded flows of transport at the local level. In terms of passenger transportation, we are promoting the use of inter-village buses, with more than 50,000 administrative villages offering new bus services, and we are striving to achieve connectivity to 100% of administrative villages that meet the requisite conditions before the end of September this year, as part of the plan to provide all rural areas with bus routes. In some areas, town buses, and customized rural passenger transport are also being developed, meaning that the dream of "hopping onto a bus on a paved road right from home" will soon be a reality. In the area of freight transportation, we are promoting the construction of a three-tier (county, township, and village) rural logistics network and the Express Delivery to Rural Areas Project, which will more closely and tightly integrate urban and rural logistics networks. In terms of postal deliveries, there are 319,000 postal express delivery outlets, of which 105,000 are located in rural areas. There are now post offices in all townships and direct mail delivery to all villages, completing the objective of connecting all rural areas to the postal network ahead of schedule. A bidirectional transportation service consisting of "urban goods going to the countryside, rural goods entering cities, e-commerce entering villages, and express delivery to households" has taken a step toward completion, helping to make impoverished areas more accessible and connected.
Saying goodbye to travel difficulties
In the past, rural roads were bumpy and threw up dust on sunny days and turned to mud on rainy days. Now, though, road surfaces are flat and smooth, meaning that the long- standing issue of people in poor areas facing difficulties to travel anywhere has finally been resolved across China, all thanks to the completion of the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, a total of RMB 592.7 billion from the vehicle purchase tax has gone toward the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative, taking total investment in rural roads to RMB 2.7 trillion. This has been spent on building and resurfacing 1.9 million km of roads and allowed the completion of the objective to connect all China's villages by hard roads. A rural road network now basically exists, with county towns at the center, small towns as the nodes, and villages as the intersections, which has truly connected rural areas and made them accessible. Great efforts have been made to solve travel difficulties in poor areas, including replacing 311 zip lines with bridges, upgrading 996 ferry crossings, and building 52 km of bridges. Since the beginning of the 13th Five-Year Plan period in 2016, we have completed upgrading projects to improve road safety on approximately 458,000 km of rural roads, renovated 15,000 rural road bridges, and widened 143,000 km of rural roads in impoverished areas, making it easier for people in those areas to travel.
Embarking on the road to prosperity
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, as part of the plan to alleviate poverty by developing transportation, we have supported the construction of 59,000 km of roads for resources, tourism, and industry in poor areas, helping to vitalize the resources and increase the capacity of impoverished areas to sustain themselves, so as to greatly improve rural living and working conditions. "Transportation + specialty crops + e-commerce," "transportation + culture + tourism," "transportation + employment + public welfare positions," and other poverty alleviation models have helped local industries develop and many famous geographically significant brands emerge, with a clear trend toward larger-scale, intensive, and diversified operations in agricultural production. As a result of improvements in basic travel conditions, education and medical care standards have improved correspondingly in impoverished areas. Urban levels of social etiquette and civility and basic public services have gradually been extended to cover impoverished areas. The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative has been an important driver of rural social etiquette and civility and an important portal for building a beautiful countryside. One by one, roads to prosperity have been built deep into the mountains and to the doors of ordinary people's homes. These roads have allowed villages to prosper and to become more beautiful, paving the way for the people to extricate themselves from poverty and achieve moderate prosperity.
Success at alleviating poverty by developing transportation has been hard-won and provided valuable experience.
We must uphold the CPC's leadership. Looking around the world, it is clear that no other country could achieve what China has done in building so much transportation infrastructure in impoverished areas in such a short space of time. The keys to this success have been the strong leadership over poverty alleviation shown by the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core, the sound guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the key role played by Party organizations in the fight against poverty, and the implementation of a people-centered development philosophy.
We must insist on building transportation that the people can enjoy. To successfully alleviate poverty by developing transportation, we need to uphold the ideas that people's transport is for the people, we build roads for the people, and we should be building the roads most needed by the people; people's transport depends on the people, so we must awaken the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of the people, and rely on the people to manage people's transport well; people's transport is shared by all the people, so we must vigorously promote equality of basic public services in urban and rural areas, and allow the people to share in the fruits of our transportation development; people's transport must be enjoyed by the people, so we must strive to meet people's desire for a better life and gradually shift our focus from connectivity to good connectivity, and we must continue with the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative until ordinary people all across China can access roads that bring them together and carry them toward prosperity and happiness.
We must continue with targeted poverty alleviation. Targeted poverty alleviation is the only way to overcome poverty. We must, therefore, continue to improve the system of targeted poverty alleviation policies and to formulate differentiated supporting policies that combine "inclusive" and "preferential" aspects based on different levels of poverty in impoverished areas. We must also explore and enrich the poverty alleviation model of combining transportation development with other elements and utilize the resource endowments and comparative advantages of regions to drive targeted poverty alleviation among poor communities.
We must increase investment. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, we have prioritized poverty alleviation projects, guaranteeing funding, work links, and implementation of measures. Our focus has been on the "three regions" (the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetan ethnic areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces, and the four prefectures of Hotan, Aksu, Kashgar, and Kizilsu in the south of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) and "three prefectures" (the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, and the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu) and other areas where poverty is deeply ingrained.
The proportion of investment in national expressways accounted for by the vehicle purchase tax subsidy has risen from 15% during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to over 28%, while the proportion for national highways has increased from 30% to around 50%, and the average for hard roads in towns and administrative villages has risen to over 70%, indicating the importance of policies in guaranteeing the success of transportation poverty alleviation work.
We must work closely to overcome difficulties. Alleviating poverty by developing transportation depends on everybody. Leveraging the vehicle purchase tax subsidy, and in accordance with the "central coordination, provincial responsibility, and city and county implementation" working mechanism, the Ministry of Transport has signed a co-development agreement with 24 provincial people's governments on alleviating poverty by developing transportation. This aims to arouse the enthusiasm and initiative of the central and local governments, markets, and particularly of impoverished people, so that they work together to promote transportation poverty alleviation.
We must adhere to a coordinated response. The Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative is a systematic project that is based on good construction, focused on good management, committed to good maintenance, and aimed at good operation. Overall coordinated development is necessary to achieve an optimal system. In the course of transportation poverty alleviation work, only by actively integrating the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative with the wider ecosystem of industry, logistics, environment, and local specialty industries in rural areas will it be possible to integrate roads with the natural environment and maximize their overall effectiveness, and thus drive the rural residents to overcome poverty and achieve moderate prosperity.
III. We must pave the way for a decisive victory over poverty and for realizing moderate prosperity throughout our society.
President Xi Jinping has pointed out that we still face great difficulties and challenges in building upon our achievements to secure a complete victory, so we must not take our foot off the gas. As far as transportation poverty alleviation work is concerned, our objective is to build on the foundations of connecting all villages with paved roads and achieving universal postal connectivity, to provide bus services to all administrative villages with the requisite conditions. At present, there are still 172 such villages that do not have access to bus services. Although this is a relatively small number, they are the poorest of the poor and face considerable difficulties, so they are the hardest to remove from the list.
We need to make unremitting efforts to contain Covid-19 in the field of transportation to ensure we achieve moderate prosperity throughout society.
In our present fight against Covid-19, we must not lower our guard but remain as vigilant as before, and fully implement the requirements of guarding against inbound cases and preventing domestic resurgence. We must resolutely avoid and overcome indifference to the risks posed by the epidemic, battle fatigue, wishful thinking, and a relaxing of attitudes, as we continue to pay close attention to every aspect of containment work. In terms of resuming business operations, we should accelerate the opening up of major transport arteries and facilitate "microcirculation." We must do everything we can to guarantee transportation to help people in poor areas return to work and ensure flows of materials needed for agricultural production and sales of agricultural products. In areas such as businesses returning to work, construction of major projects, and development of logistics systems, we should prioritize organization and use of workers from poor areas and continue the integration of poverty-alleviating public service jobs and rural road maintenance work, so as to provide local employment opportunities for workers from poor areas.
We need to overcome poverty decisively by developing transportation and achieve moderate prosperity throughout society.
We need to remain goal-oriented, strengthen our resolve, and make even greater efforts. As far as possible, we should increase support for the aforementioned three regions and three prefectures; accelerate the construction of rail, road, waterway, civil aviation, and postal service infrastructure; and implement task-oriented management, prioritized support, policy coordination, and effective scheduling, in order to ensure total victory in poverty alleviation work. We must strive to achieve universal access to bus services in towns and administrative villages with the requisite conditions by the end of September. In light of local conditions and measures for epidemic prevention, we will flexibly adopt public transport, bus routes, regional operations, and subscription response measures to promote the operation of rural passenger transportation. We need to promote the establishment of long-term mechanisms for developing rural passenger transport, and ensure genuine and stable access to transport by combatting the manipulation of transport figures for fraudulent purposes. We need to be adept at dedicated poverty alleviation support and paired assistance and finish the project of supporting the Liupanshan region. We need to harness industrial advantages and come up with methods and practices that utilize the roles of industry, consumption, employment, and education in alleviating poverty.
Efforts to alleviate poverty through the development of transportation are the key to breaking through bottlenecks hindering economic and social progress in rural areas. This image taken on March 19, 2020 shows newly built paved roads snaking to the doorsteps of homes in a mountainous area in Leyuan Village, Liangping District, Chongqing. These roads have helped local residents grow businesses, increase their incomes, and escape poverty. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY GAO XIAOHUA
We need to promote first-rate implementation of the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative and coordinate poverty alleviation and rural rejuvenation.
Shaking off poverty is not the end; it is the starting point of a new life and new struggle. In the final year of the 13th Five-Year Plan period, we must shore up any deficiencies and strengthen foundations. Starting with the first-rate implementation of the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative, we should promote transportation projects that benefit villages and rural households in light of local conditions. We should continue the reform of the management and maintenance system for rural roads and use the Four-Guarantee Rural Roads Initiative as an example to improve and expand similar work. Focusing on helping industry thrive, we should promote the integration of rural logistical resources, such as transportation, express postal services, and commercial supply and marketing services, strive to expand coverage of rural logistics networks and improve overall service levels. We need to improve mechanisms constantly, carry out planning and preparation work for the 14th Five-Year Plan which is to start in 2021, conduct research on ongoing policies for rail, roads, waterways, civil aviation, and postal routes for beyond 2020, and do a good job in the next chapter of poverty alleviation by developing transportation.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 11, 2020)