By the board members of Belt and Road Institute in Sweden
The Chinese government had designated the end of the year 2020 as the deadline for eliminating extreme poverty in China. On Nov. 23, authorities in southwest China’s Guizhou Province announced that they had lifted the last remaining nine counties in their province out of absolute poverty. “This means that all 832 registered poor counties in China have shaken off poverty,” Xinhua reported. At the end of 2019, there were still 52 counties across China on the poverty list. “Earlier this month, all poor counties in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, as well as the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan and Gansu were lifted out of poverty,” Xinhua added. With Guizhou now reporting the same, the national goal has been met.
A Global Times editorial Nov. 24 celebrated and explained China’s historic achievement in three main points: “First, China is able to concentrate its efforts on major tasks with strict enforcement of orders and prohibitions” it stated. Second, it reported that “based on local conditions, we helped people move out of places such as remote mountains that are not suitable to live in. The relocation efforts solved the survival problem of many people”. The third and most significant point is the process of industrialization. The editorial states: “Third, China has reduced poverty with industrial development. This has been one of the most direct and effective measures to offer long-term solutions for impoverished places. Nowadays, many places around the world are still troubled by poverty. Even in developed capitalist countries there are large numbers of people living under crippling circumstances. Capitalism’s nature of profits at all costs determines that many countries don’t take poverty relief as one of their top priorities.”
The Global Times emphasized, however, that the elimination of extreme poverty does not mean that the problem of poverty will no longer exist. “After all, ‘poverty’ is a relative concept”, it said adding that “therefore, as extreme poverty is now deemed to be officially eliminated, China’s definition of poverty will gradually expand.” The next goal is to “upgrade from meeting the needs of basic subsistence to living a decent life. These include providing clean drinking water, better health care and education.”
A new standard in fighting poverty
The third point in the Global Times editorial is of special importance, because it redefines the question of extreme poverty and its solutions.
One problem of the general definitions of poverty as translated into income is not sufficient. The World Bank’s definition of “extreme poverty” as defined by an income below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day could be misleading. The Chinese standard is closer to the United Nations’ as it defined absolute poverty as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information”. It depends not only on income but also on access to services (UN 1995 report of the World Summit for Social Development).
China’s miracle of pulling 850 million people out of poverty has depended on three decades of incredible industrialization through government investments in urban and rural infrastructure projects, mega-projects in transportation, water, power, space technology and scientific research. Within this short span of time, China managed to build an industrial and scientific capacity unparalleled in world history. Between 1987 and 2017, China brought about the largest urbanization process (organized internal immigration) witnessed in the history of mankind. In that period the urbanization rate increased from 24% to 58%, surpassing that of the world average of 54%, according to the World Development Indicators / World Bank data. Moreover, 27% of the urban population lives in cities with more than 1 million inhabitants. China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita grew 13 times between 1992 and 2017 from $1300 to reach the global average of $16800. This is unprecedented in modern history. The world average GDP grew only three times during the same period. The birth rate control policies between 1979-2015 brought the growth rate of the population below the global average. However, China’s massive investment in educating the population has a significant role in the development. This can be derived from the fact that share of the population who enter higher education that increased from 3% (1992) to 52% (2019). This was a decisive factor in the economic miracle and its sustainability.
Lessons for Africa
Based on their own experience, the Chinese correctly identified “three bottlenecks of development” in Africa. These are: 1. Lack of infrastructure, 2. Shortage of credit, and 3. Shortage of skilled labor. President Xi Jinping expressed this in his speech at the FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg in 2015. He also identified how China will tackle these bottlenecks. Xi said: “To build China-Africa comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership, China will implement ten cooperation plans with Africa in the next three years. Guided by the principle of government guidance, businesses being the major actors, market operation and win-win cooperation, these plans aim at addressing three bottleneck issues holding back Africa’s development, namely, inadequate infrastructure, lack of professional and skilled personnel, and funding shortage, accelerating Africa’s industrialization and agricultural modernization, and achieving sustainable self-development.”
As the BRIX outlined in the special report on the Belt and Road Initiative in December 2019, Africa can become fully equipped with the tools of its own development, learning the lessons from China, which was poorer than many African countries in the 1960s, in eradicating poverty through a policy of industrialization.
The new standard set by China and successfully proven, should be a matter of deep study by international agencies and by nations involved in defining plans for reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal number one, Zero Poverty.