While the world is preoccupied in overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has spawned, China is jubilant in its twin successes of: First, arresting the coronavirus outbreak; and second, navigating these difficult global conditions towards the prosperity of its economy and eradicating poverty – the millennial nemesis of the Middle Kingdom in the 5,000 years that have passed.
For a nation of 1.4-billion people who have traditionally been bound to the limits of the soil and the vagaries of natural and human vicissitudes that disrupt economic production and distribution, the obliteration of abject penury and hunger is a gargantuan aspiration that may well-nigh have been impossible. But China has achieved it – and the rest of the world, still plagued by hunger, must pause and take note.
How did China do it? What did it take to reach this success? Only a few decades back, the country was chronically short of food and millions of its teeming population had only one set of dark blue clothes, the so-called “Mao suit” uniform , which was shared between the household members who worked on the day and night shifts.
Global Poverty today
The Global Poverty Rate 2021 publication, which is issued by the World Population Review (WPR), defines poverty as “not having enough material possessions or income to cover a person’s basic personal needs, sometimes so extreme where a person lacks food, clothing, and shelter.” Different countries have different economic levels but the UN’s universal poverty threshold is living on $ 1.90 or less per day per person.
China’s own poverty threshold is at $ 2.20 per day, the minimum income it has achieved with its poverty alleviation campaign. It would be interesting to see what enabled China to achieve this Herculean task of lifting 800-million of its impoverished citizens out of poverty. It should be noted that, of these 800-million, the final 100-million were lifted out of poverty only in the past ten years, while 8.6% of the rest of the world (or 700-million people) remain poor and hungry.
The poverty rate is defined as the ratio of the number of people whose incomes fall below the poverty line. By comparing poverty rates across countries, we can help readers comprehend the total picture of global poverty. According to the WPR, China today has a poverty rate of 0.6; in comparison, the poverty rates of other countries are as follows: Malaysia is at 5.6, Vietnam at 6.7, Japan at 15.7, U.S. at 17.8, Philippines at 21.6, India at 21.9, Myanmar at 24.8, South Africa at 55.5 and Madagascar at 70.7.
Organization, people and funding
Every country would like to eradicate the poverty but, except for China today, no country has ever claimed to have achieved it. Quoting President Xi Jinping, a Xinhua report summarizes the Chinese anti-poverty initiative as a “series of extraordinary policies and measures, blazing a poverty reduction path and forming an anti-poverty theory with Chinese characteristics.”
The report cites Xi’s explanation that the leadership of the Communist Party of China provided the “solid political and organizational guarantee for China’s poverty alleviation efforts.” The anti-poverty campaign, which was put under the unified and centralized leadership of the CPC Central Committee, involved a total of 255,000 teams who were dispatched throughout the country to offer on-the-ground support.
Over 3-million people were sent to the countryside as “special commissioners for poverty relief”; and to support the whole enterprise, the necessary funding of Yuan 1.6-trillion, or about $ 246-billion, was put in place. This mass organization of 255,000 teams and 3-million people reached out to each and every village and home that needed attention.
These “special commissioners” – the hundreds of thousands of teams and millions of anti-poverty workers – fanned out and went from household-to-household, checking on who in particular needed help, tapping and stimulating the creativity of the poor themselves who took initiative, fostering a “whole society” atmosphere to actively help the poor to rise above their former dire conditions.
From communities located in downtrodden areas too distant from markets and assistance, at least a million were relocated to housing communities with new two-story homes, water supply and power systems, and newly-established livelihoods ranging from tourism to agricultural commodities production. I have watched several YouTube videos of such projects with the beaming residents in their new homes.
The relocation to uplift the impoverished is in distinct contrast with many cases of government relocation in the Philippines. For example, government efforts to relocate the Dumagats to new modern housing communities with livelihood components to make way for the Kaliwa Dam are being resisted by the protests of Catholic priests and leftist NGOs who would prefer to keep the poor Dumagats at level of the subsistence economy.
Reactions of International Community
When I use the term “international community” I refer – not to the Western alliance countries – to the United Nations, the genuine voice of all the nations, whose Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez has said that China’s reduction experience “can provide valuable lessons to other developing countries…”
Jorge Chediek, the UN secretary-general’s envoy on the South-South Cooperation and director of the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), says, “China gives us an affirmation that the SDG-1 ‘No Poverty’ (Sustainable Development Goals-1) is attainable in a country with a 1.4-billion population… which is also a significant contribution to global poverty eradication…”
China solved more than half of the world’s global poor when it lifted its 800-million impoverished people from poverty over the past forty years. Now China is helping the world to help the remaining 700-million to be uplifted in the rest of the Third World. But Western media, like the New York Times (NYT) says it is “an approach that few developing countries cannot afford and even Beijing may struggle to sustain”.
China’s not-so-secret to success
China’s key to its “miraculous” economic renaissance is rather simple – leadership. The Communist Party of China (CPC) is leading China with its unerring focus and continuing adaptation of its economic and social development theory. Its practice is uninterrupted by radical political discontinuities and based on democratic communitarianism, which the West habitually calls “authoritarianism”.
The West often claims that China’s success are because of its favors to China. Seen objectively, however, China enjoyed the favors of many nations because it offered what others with the same opportunities could not , such as, the huge low wage labor pool of India in Asia or Brazil in the Americas. To these nations, China offered politically-stable economic partnerships, a built-up supply chain and a zealously industrious work force.
The West was also attracted to China for its promising market; during its period of opening up, China became a most lucrative venue for Western corporations enjoying lower labor costs and a market more lucrative than their own home markets. As China continued to develop, it spent its new wealth on its people while the West went to wars. And now, China is perceived by the West as a strategic competitor.
Lessons for the Philippines
One wonders if the Philippines will ever escape the poverty trap. Its chaotic political system deliberately and regularly disrupts its medium and long term aspirations, vision and plans: national elections, install a new leader every six years and appoints 5,000 new executives at different levels of government. Half of these spend their first two years in on-the-job training and the last two years in stealing.
Vietnam is another example of the democratic communitarian state that has been remarkably successful in lifting its 97-million people out of extreme poverty and industrially capable in this currently-intense competitive world. The Philippines, who used to assist Vietnam with medical and mercy missions in the 50s has now been left by its former beneficiary.
The Philippines is facing another national election in 2022 just when the country is hoping to rise out of the pandemic crisis. Even a new president who will seek to follow the footsteps of Duterte will face the problem of setting up a new political edifice as new loyalists come and old ones go. And this new president will need to face a new batch of 500 incoming legislators who will each swallow up P 100-million annually to aid of grandstanding.
Is it too late for the Revolutionary Government or RevGov?