The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston has stated that China’s achievements in alleviating extreme poverty in recent years, and in meeting highly ambitious targets for improving social well-being, have been extraordinary.
He noted that the Chinese Communist Party is confronted with enormous challenges in the form of slower growth rates, dramatic inequality, deep-rooted environmental degradation, and a struggle to define the rule of law.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing at the end of his first official visit to China, Mr. Alston affirmed that China’s determination to build a moderately prosperous society free of extreme poverty could not be doubted. “This political will is impressive and all too uncommon in today’s world,” he said.
The purpose of his visit was to assess the efforts of the Chinese Government to eradicate poverty and how such efforts are anchored in its international human rights obligations.
During his nine-day visit, the UN Special Rapporteur met and engaged with the representatives of the central and local governments, academic experts in Beijing and Yunnan province among others.
Mr. Alston opined that China has much to be proud of in the field of poverty alleviation.
He however pointed out that if it is to effectively ensure the implementation of its economic and social rights obligations, China needs to adopt more robust mechanisms for citizens involvement and for governmental accountability.
According to Mr. Alston’s report at the end of his visit, over the past three decades, and with particular speed in recent years, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. This staggering achievement, he noted is a credit to those responsible.
He stated: “If there are lessons to be drawn by other countries from China’s achievements, the principal ones would seem to be that a well-functioning market economy is capable of generating large financial returns, including for the state, government intervention to improve the situation of the relatively large numbers of people whom the market inevitably bypasses, and genuine political will to alleviate poverty is arguably the most important ingredient of all.”
The Challenge ahead
According to him, government statistics indicate that 5.7% of China’s population were still living in extreme poverty at the end of 2015 and that rates vary significantly from as high as 10% in Western China, to only 1.8% in Eastern China.
Certain groups, he said are especially vulnerable, such as ethnic minorities for whom the rate is 12.1% and the elderly and youth for whom it is above 9%.
President Xi Jinping has promised to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020, so that no one shall be left behind. In this practice, this means lifting 55.75 million rural people out of extreme poverty defined by reference to an income-based standard of USD2.30 per day or 2800 Yuan per year. The goal is enshrined in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) and all levels of government and the party have been instructed to give it to the highest priority. All indications are that it will be met, even ahead of time.
by Mariatou Ngum in Beijing, China