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Under Xi, China wages war on poverty

Xinhua, August 15, 2016 Adjust font size:

For the small, impoverished county of Fuping in the northern province of Hebei, an inspection tour by Xi Jinping in late 2012 was a game changer.

"It was a cold, chilly day, with snow everywhere, but the memory of it burns even today," Tang Rongbin, a 72-year-old farmer from the village of Luotuozhuang in Fuping, recalled.

Xi, who at the time was the newly-elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, arrived with relief materials such as cooking oil, flour, quilts and winter coats, which the villagers gladly accepted.

But Tang said Xi's visit was more of one of belief than of relief.

"[Xi] came to my house, sat down and we talked like neighbors," Tang said.

"He said we could turn dust to gold so long as we have confidence," he said.

Only about three hour's drive from Beijing, Fuping has stood economically isolated for years. While the rest of the country was rushing headlong to riches during its nearly four decades of economic reforms and breakneck growth, life in Fuping remained, mostly, flat.

The county has been under the national poverty alleviation plan since 1994. At one point, two in five Fuping residents were living under the poverty line of 2,300 yuan (about 354 U.S. dollars) in annual income.

In 2012, the per capita net income of Luotuozhuang village residents was just short of 1,000 yuan. Nationwide, the per capita net income of rural residents that year was about seven times as much.

Even today, nearly 30 percent of the county's 200,000 residents live on less than one dollar a day.

Xi's 2012 visit, however, gave the county hope that it would find its way off the poverty list after all, as an influx of funds followed the Chinese leader's visit.

Roughly 300 million yuan was allocated to support Fuping's poverty alleviation work in 2013 alone -- almost 1.5 times as much as the county had received over the previous two decades.

The financial injection seemed to have worked a spell. By 2015, per capita income of Luotuozhuang residents had tripled from 2012 levels to nearly 3,000 yuan.

"Our aim now is to lift all residents above the poverty line by 2017," said Luotuozhuang village chief Zhang Fengzhong.

In retrospect, Zhang told Xinhua that the local officials were quite nervous about Xi's Luotuozhuang visit.

Li Ningtai, Fuping Party secretary, was one of them. "We were concerned -- what if the general secretary is not satisfied with our poverty relief work?" Li recalled.

But Li said that Xi had insisted on visiting the "poorest" localities in Hebei for his first domestic inspection tour as the Party's chief.

"He wanted to see the view from the coal face," Li said.

His tour of Luotuozhuang was not the first time that Xi had experienced poverty first hand.

Addressing the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum in Beijing last October, Xi spoke about the seven years he spent farming in the northern province of Shaanxi in the late 1960s. He said he had been "overwhelmed" seeing rural poverty firsthand.

"My fellow villagers and I worked so hard. Even to improve our lives just a little bit seemed almost impossible at the time," he said.

"Over the past 40-plus years, I have worked in county-, city-, and provincial-level posts and in the central government, and poverty relief has always been an important part of my work, the part I give most of my energy to," he said.

Indeed, poverty relief has been a policy priority for decades.

China lifted 439 million people out of poverty between 1990 and 2011.

But with Xi at the helm, poverty relief has been taken even more seriously.

China is striving to become a "Xiaokang," or a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way, by 2020, just before the centennial anniversary of the founding of the CPC.

One aim is to make sure that those yet to be lifted out of poverty and take their rightful place as citizens of a well-off society with the rest of the nation.

In Xi's own words, "No one should be left behind."

With tens of millions of Chinese still struggling on less than one dollar a day, the 2020 task is, without doubt, daunting.

But Xi's determination to rid China of the ailment is also not to be underestimated.

For four years in a row, Xi's lunar New Year tours have taken him to development backwaters to inspect poverty reduction efforts.

In fact, poverty relief work has been a prominent feature of nearly all of Xi's domestic inspection tours.

Just last month, Xi visited Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, an under-developed area with a high concentration of ethnic minorities.

"There are still some 50 million Chinese struggling with poverty, and by 2020, they must be all lifted out of poverty. This is my top concern now," Xi said during the tour, which saw him talking with villagers about their lives, and urging CPC cadres to take the lead in poverty reduction.

Xi also, at a national conference on poverty alleviation in Ningxia's capital of Yinchuan, urged developed regions in the east to help their partner regions in the west better address poverty.

Wang Sangui, a professor with Renmin University, said Xi's domestic visits, including the one last month to Ningxia, underscored the leadership's governance determination to focus on impoverished and underdeveloped regions.

"For Xi and the leadership, poverty reduction is not just an economic issue, but a political one, which is closely linked to the people's well-being and to lasting stability in China," Wang said.

His words were echoed by Xu Yaotong, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.

"Xi is first and foremost concerned with 'Xiaokang' of all Chinese people," said Xu.

"If we compare China's development to a wooden bucket. The amount of water a bucket can hold is determined by its shortest plank," Xu continued, adding that poverty is one of the short planks.

"To build a comprehensively 'Xiaokang' society, the country must address those short, weak planks," Xu said.

In addition to inspection tours, Xi has also, more than once, raised poverty alleviation with national lawmakers during the annual March sessions of China's top legislature.

Just this year, Xi told lawmakers from the northwestern province of Qinghai that targeted measures were the way forward and the role of education must be emphasized to ensure the people do not slip back in to poverty.

Infrastructure in ethnic regions will be improved and competitive, local industries will be encouraged, which will all facilitate self-development, Xi said.

Wang, meanwhile, also noted that while striving to reduce poverty at home, China has also actively supported the other developing countries as they navigate the same path.

China was the first developing country to meet the Millennium Development Goals target of reducing the population living in poverty by half ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Over the past 60 years, China has provided 166 countries and international organizations with nearly 400 billion yuan in assistance.

It has unconditionally forgiven mature inter-governmental interest-free loans held by heavily-indebted developing countries seven times.

The goal of eliminating poverty in 15 years was laid out at a United Nations summit in last September, and China pledged an initial 2 billion U.S. dollars to establish an assistance fund to help developing nations fight poverty.

Xi also pledged at the summit that Beijing will do its best to raise investment in the least developed countries (LDCs) to 12 billion dollars by 2030, Xi said, and exempt the debt of the outstanding intergovernmental interest-free loans due by the end of 2015 owed by the relevant LDCs, landlocked developing countries and small island developing countries.

The multi-billion-dollar pledges in aid, investment and debt exemption to less developed countries will help them meet key poverty reduction targets, Wang said.

In the meantime, China's progress in anti-poverty work has also provided experience for countries still plagued by extreme poverty.

In a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of a landmark summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in last December, Xi said China will establish a number of regional vocational education centers and several capacity-building colleges for Africa, train 200,000 technicians for African countries, and provide the continent with 40,000 training opportunities in China.

"To use an ancient Chinese proverb; China is not only giving African countries fish, but also teaching them how to fish," Wang said.

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