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In interview, Yunnan Party chief stresses ending poverty

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China's President Xi Jinping has declared that the country will rid itself of "absolute poverty" by the end of 2020. With just a few years to go, Yunnan province has considerable work to do. As the most powerful politician South of the Clouds, Yunnan Party Secretary Chen Hao (陈豪) is ultimately in charge and accountable for such endeavors. He recently gave a personal interview with People's Daily, in which he vaguely outlined what plans are now in motion.

The term absolute poverty is typically used to describe people living on less than US$1 a day, the equivalent of about 6.30 yuan. During his interview, Chen explained that 3.3 million people in Yunnan qualify for this lowest of all income groups. Raising them out of abject penury, admits Chen, is an "extremely tough" proposition.

The guiding principle to achieving Xi's vision, said Chen, is a nationwide policy officially translated into English as 'Two no worries and three guarantees' (两不愁, 三保障). The first pair refers to providing everyone with adequate food and clothing, while the latter three assure universal access to a minimum of nine years of education for all children, access to basic medical coverage for everyone, and safe housing for families.

While these concepts are repeated as boilerplate by politicians across China these days, Chen did elucidate one major detail — that people living in "places unable to support proper habitation" will be relocated. This will involve new ways of government departmental cooperation "at all levels", he said, meaning village, county, prefectural and provincial officials should expect to be held accountable.

First the province must identify those families living in substandard housing, next assessing which homes can simply be repaired and which are no longer suitable for dwelling. What will happen to people currently occupying unfixable and "dangerous" homes remains unclear.

While government safety inspectors rush to identify shoddy housing, a slew of other strategies are in place. Creating "industrial" work with on-the-job training is high on the Party secretary's list, as are education and clean food and water programs. During his interview, Chen did not put a price tag on what eliminating poverty in Yunnan may be.

Vague policy pronouncements aside, according to government statistics Yunnan has decreased the number of people living in abject poverty dramatically over the past half-decade or more. In 2011, some 13 million people in the province were thought to be living on less that a dollar a day. Getting the last remaining 3.3 million into better situations may not therefore be impossible, but little time remains.

Image: CGTN

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i thought poverty is bad enough until i heard 'absolute poverty'.

34 years ago, when entered China, China was a poor country with most people living under the $1.00 per day poverty line. The 100's of millions of people raised out of poverty in China reflect improvement to above that line. I leave it to you as to how realistic $1 per day is.

Since 2008, $1.25 has been used as the global line. As of October 2015, the global poverty line was updated to $1.90. It seems China is holding the long outdated $1 which is a lower hurdle.

I cringe when I hear of relocation schemes that move poor uneducated unskilled people, living at a centuries old subsistence level, being uprooted and forced into a cash economy. Incomes may rise a few yuan per day so fewer are "counted as poor" while the now "not poor" work at low wages. Real poverty exists in urban areas too.

The raise in standard of living has set all time global records. But the comple eradication gets more challenging, particularly as economic growth has slowed. The stated goal is to eliminate 'rural ' poverty and therefore moving people into urban areas counts toward achieving that specific goal. There is no specific mention of urban poor.

Economies that put As much as a US$ 1 million in the hands of one person while another makes $1 a day, no matter how it is done, are so far away from anything that might be called economic justice that more questions have to be asked about the overall system than anyone seems to dare to ask - and as to doing something serious about it, one meets nothing but ridicule, defeatism and suppression.
I hope this is all more than just more words, but it's' a long way from here to human decency. The mention of relocation is also a bit worrying.

My guess is that lowering poverty to zero is asymptotical because people are involved. As long as China maintains a $1 per day poverty line, the statistical eradication of poverty will always be impressive. If China adopts The World Bank $1.90 per day there would be a whole lot more people in poverty. Clearly that statistic would not be welcome.

I am not sure what "economic justice" is. Perhaps everyone that has less than someone else is a victim of unfair "economic justice." I suspect, however, that there is no such thing as quantifiable "economic justice" and the term will become an arrow in the social justice warrior's quiver in the struggle for equaity.

A recent tweet on twitter (complete and unedited):

"white women also owe women of color money. this is part of economic justice and justice in general. seeking the economic liberation of all women and the end of capitalism and patriarchy demands white women's accountability. this is possible. not neat or simple, but possible."

I'm not sure I'm qualified to provide an explanation of what 'economic justice' is, but any fool can see what it is not.

Each and every 'fool' has their own criteria. The indignant better off proclaim 'injustice' relentlessly and claim to do so on behalf of 'others'.

As of late, Chinese pro-party commentators have repeatedly mentioned that Deng never said that it is glorious to be rich for everyone - they argue that Deng always meant for select few to become rich first, and rest later.

If much of China growth, or at least opening the potential to it, can be attributed to reforms that Deng initiated, then just as much of the so-called economic injustice (or relative poverty) can be attributed to those same political decisions - not so much people unintentionally falling off the wagon of development and economic prosperity, as is case in some western countries.

Secondly, the culture of shared poverty being the glorious thing (that the previous generations were forced to), would not have disappeared over night.

I have witnessed the internal conflict in some elderly rural residents in Yunnan, torn between being angry for not getting to enjoy the fruits of China's growth on one hand, and not accepting the steps that would be needed to pick the fruits on the other hand.

@nnoble: Disagreements over criteria, okay. I'm not sure what the criteria, especially that of the better off who are not indignant, are, but I hope this effort to do something about absolute poverty enjoys some success.

It sounds to me like they're planning to wipe villages off the map. Think of the loss of dignity that the poor, elderly rural generation will feel when they are uprooted from the places they spent their whole lives, in a nation where one's ancestry and identity and culture are so tied to geography. Why the rush? Let this generation pass peacefully. The young all want to leave anyway. In another 25 years the problem will have solved itself.

@Geogramatt: Another possibility might be to ask the people concerned, who have this poverty problem now, about what they think might be usefully done, rather than make them wait 25 years, but that would involve a level of transparency and consultation that I rather doubt would be permitted, since the officials concerned are no doubt quite sure that they know better. It would also probably require an admission that the villages, properly speaking, belong to the inhabitants.
As for the generation passing peacefully: might be difficult after all the young people leave.

@Geogramatt: "Why the rush? Let this generation pass peacefully. The young all want to leave anyway."

I would think that it makes China look bad (and that's what the leadership cares, despite what their actions sometimes come through as), if there are so many elder people left behind in undeveloped rural homes.

Combine this with left behind children, who often are seen sharing those poor living conditions with their grandparents (if even that).. If the elderly are migrated to better housing closer to even minimal services, then so would their grandchildren - and that's for the future, right now.

Also there are some possible positive consequences that could be expected from removing poverty in China. It is clearly an area where the state is putting lot of money and resources, and once that is done, what next?

Optimists could expect the country's self esteem and confidence to raise from "job well done", which could release political will to liberal reforms - further increase rule of law, civil society, or even democracy.

But an unavoidable next step is to build support to the aging population.

So just as important as removing poverty is, possibly even more important is to get it done so the country can move to other things.

Why should anyone assume that China aspire to become democratic or why 'democracy' should be considered a suitable system of governance for China? I view democracy zealots in the same way as I view activists pushing veaganism or total abstinence from alcohol, smoking and premarital sex. If it works for you, great, but don't assume that it's right for everyone and give over with the preaching because that simply serves to irritate. The current, and limited, goals for poverty reduction (in rural areas) have been put in place, and will almost certainly be achieved, along with other key policies, in order to provide continuing legitimacy to total Party dominance. This is the paramount objectve and all other goals and policies serve to achieve this. For the majority of the population, the formula is at least tolerated and even lauded by many. For internal dissenters, they simply have to accept that China is spending more on internal security than external defence and way up the consequences. If you are Chinese and want out, then leave quietly and don't make a fuss. If you're not Chinese and you disagree then fill your boots - it's seen as background noise, somewhat amusing and it's really not important what you think. At the same time, if you string along then you may benefit. Seems to me that China is already overflowing with self-esteem and confidence. If you could buy and sell shares in a country or Union for long-term gain, China would probably head the FTSE 100 and be a safe haven while other countries and jurisdictions are currently underperforming or restructuring along authoritarian lines.

Personally, I like messy and chaotic democracy. It's more fun.

All systems have their faults. The danger occurs when too much power is ceded to one individual or small group/faction. Or if it rests with one individual or faction for too long. Especially where there is a lack of accountability., or a refusal to be called to account.

The current Emperor Contract probably provides the same level of security as that afforded to an English Premier League football manager.

@nnoble: "Why should anyone assume that China aspire to become democratic or why 'democracy' should be considered a suitable system of governance for China?"

Now you are incorrecly assuming that choice between democracy or any other system is a black and white decision that defines the entire governing system of a country.

Even China does have some democracy in grassroots (rownship etc) levels, and increasing this kind of democracy does not mean abandoning the rule of the party or socialism with Chinese characteristics. The opposite in fact - well measured moves to increase democracy in select areas can strengthen the rule of the party.

Simple truth is that when people get sufficiently fed and housed, their minds start to wander to what else they should or could get.

Should they be wanting KTVs and KFCs, or guarantee that now they have proper housing, they won't have to move again just because some businessman from Zhejiang wants to build a dam or a mine right in that spot - with or without their permission, with or without proper environmental guards.

'.......well measured moves to increase democracy in select areas can strengthen the rule of the party'. Sure, like it did in Wuhan.

It was always well known that Deng Xiaoping never said to get rich is glorious", just like Bogart never said play it again Sam. What he actually said was it's OK for some people to get rich first. Maybe he intended for the rest to catch up later or perhaps it was just sugar coating the pill. Anyway he is long gone and China, like the West, is seeing unprecedented inequality. Depressingly, for some people that seems to be a cause for celebration.

Someone once said that capitalism is not about having more. It is about having more than your neighbor.

Overall, my opinion about "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is that the "Chinese characteristics" should be limited to absolute single party rule in Beijing to decide laws and the directions that the country goes.

Implementing those laws should (and are) left to local level governments, and these local level governments should be accountable to the people.

These officials do not need be democratically elected, but they should serve the people democractically.

The people should hold local government officials accountable for implementing the decisions that dictators in Beijing dictate. This is where the democracy in China should thrive. The people should have direct channels to Beijing to report failures of local officials, and Beijing should be quick to respond.

People shouldn't even have a need to go to barricades, if they could trust the supposedly strong central government to deal with issues.

This does absolute not mean that the rule of party would decrease - it would increase, through and for the people. The central government will become stronger, when they don't have to watch inefficient local officials holding posts that they don't deserve.

They implement this accountability retroactively now, and Yunnan is no stranger to this. Development toward society with people first will also mean officials being accountable first and not sometime later.

And I believe that the system will naturally develop to that.

Anti-corruption campaign has changed the picture, where those who want easy life with kickbacks and gifts aim for official positions with capacity to receive them. Increasingly it is so, that those who really want to serve the people even consider these positions.

A smart to-be official like this will eventually perhaps voluntarily ask the people if they want him to take the post to begin with. And that's not far from western-like democracy, even if no formal elections ever take place and the important decisions keep being made by dictators in Beijing.

Foreign observes can keep commenting about those decisions made in Beijing to end of days, while China should ignore that and not fuel the fire by having the decisions (whether good or bad) not properly carried through local levels.

This is increasingly important now, when structural changes (of which many can not be expected to be popular with all components of society) are required to float the ship.

For Chinese, the country being a dictatorship of the party would be better than a being broken dictatorship of the party, that it has been in past.

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