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China to become first to realize UN goal of 'no poverty'

By Harvey Dzodin | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-08 07:19
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China is poised to realize a dream that a few decades ago most experts would have dismissed as wishful thinking. For centuries, China dreamed of building a "moderately prosperous society" in all respects. And this year, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, China will realize that dream despite having a population of more than 1.3 billion.

Late leader Deng Xiaoping resurrected this ancient but never-realized goal when reform and opening-up were launched. Chinese leaders who followed adopted it, adding additional details.

President Xi Jinping included it in his seminal "four-pronged comprehensive strategy" in 2014. Xi explained the notion in great detail at the 19th National Congress of the CPC in October 2017 in a speech titled, "Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects", mentioning the concept 18 times.

He said that building a moderately prosperous society in all respects meant promoting social fairness and justice, as well as ensuring steady access to childcare, education, employment, medical service, elderly care, housing and social assistance. He pledged to "intensify poverty alleviation, see that all our people have a greater sense of fulfillment as they contribute to and gain from development, and continue to promote well-rounded human development and common prosperity for everyone."

Now, a little more than two years later, the results are in, and China is about to eradicate absolute poverty.

In 1979, China's per capita GDP was $200. It is now estimated to be $10,000, a 50-fold increase-with GDP growth averaging just shy of 10 percent a year.

Over the past four decades, China has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty, which is 70 percent of the global total. Little wonder China is set to become the first developing country to achieve the first of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals: No poverty.

China's rural population living under the currently defined poverty line of $1.90 per person per day fell from 770 million in 1978 to 16.6 million in 2018, and the rural poverty level declined from 97.5 percent to 1.7 percent, a decrease of 95.8 percent.

In 2019 alone, about 340 impoverished counties and 10 million people were lifted out of poverty. And Xi has pledged that after the eradication of absolutely poverty in 2020, China will launch a campaign to eliminate relative poverty.

Other statistics are equally impressive. For example, over the four decades of reform and opening-up, life expectancy has increased from 65 to 77, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 48 deaths per 1,000 live births to 6.1 deaths per 1,000.

Sidney Gamble, an American sociologist, amateur photographer and grandson of the founder of Proctor& Gamble, now called P&G, made three study trips to North China in the early 20th century. The abject poverty of the people in Beijing captured in his photographs are in stark contrast to the photos taken last year in some of the exact same spots by his grandson that showed the Chinese capital's state-of-the-art modernity.

But much needs to be done to realize the second centennial goal by 2050 (2049 being the 100th anniversary of the founding of New China), that is, to "develop China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful".

Although China is set to eliminate absolute poverty this year, its per capita income is still very low compared with those of advanced economies. Plus, income inequality is relatively high, and China still lags behind advanced economies in terms of labor productivity and human capital.

When I first visited China in 1988, it was a totally different place. I'm in awe of the changes China has brought about in a little over three decades. And I'm privileged to live here and see the historic transformation with my own eyes.

The author is a senior fellow at the think tank Center for China and Globalization. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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