China announces mission accomplished: “Even the last province has defeated poverty”

Nanking – Kiwi plants cover every slope in the steep valley of the Guizhou province. Here and there, beyond the fronds, poles with intelligent cameras sprout, which monitor the health of the plants and the state of ripeness of the fruits. At this point in the year, the kiwis were harvested, but at the end of August when we visited rural Xiuwen county, they still hung unripe from the branches. “There have been hailstorms, but the income is good,” he said Zhou Zengping, head of Xiangbahu village and the local farmers’ cooperative.

The kiwis harvested here are sold to a company controlled by the provincial government, the same company that installed the cameras and taught the farmers about precision farming: they will pay 26 cents more than the market price. A “political” surplus that is then up to Zhou to distribute among the villagers, even those who, for reasons of health or age, cannot work in the fields: “All families are entitled to 7 thousand yuan a year for each member, including children (about 850 euros, ed). There were 27 nuclei below the poverty line, but now they have all been raised above “.

It is thus, project after project, valley after valley, family after family, that China has achieved a historic goal: to eradicate absolute poverty from its rural areas. In the coming days, the province of Guizhou, one of the most backward, will be the last of the Dragon to certify the mission launched by Xi Jinping in 2013, it became one of his leadership’s top priorities.

Eight years ago 100 million Chinese still lived below the poverty line, by the end of last year the number had shrunk to 5.5 million. And it doesn’t matter if the official announcement will arrive only next spring, during the National Assembly: all the counties involved are now at zero. The battle is won, a decisive step in China’s path towards well-being and a nice prop for the consensus and control of the Communist Party in the periphery of the empire, often crossed by ethnic tensions.

The fact that the poverty line has been set very low takes little away from the value of the company. The authorities have set the limit at $ 400 in annual income, well below the $ 2 a day used as a criterion by the World Bank. But it is necessary to understand where China started from: many remote areas of the country were still plagued by a premodern agricultural misery.

In the village of Huopu, lost in the mountains of Sichuan, the families of the Yi minority, dark-skinned and almost Tibetan features, still lived in mud houses, without electricity and running water. A visit by Xi in 2018 consecrated that place as a model of the “one-two-three campaign”, as the fight against poverty is also defined: “one income”, the famous $ 400 a year, “two less worries” , food and clothing, “three guarantees”, safe housing, access to education and medical care.

When we visited, a few months after the president, Huopu had strawberry fields, a school and brick houses, all with Xi’s posters in the living room, some even with TV. “Now we don’t just eat potatoes, we have drinking water and electricity,” said an elderly lady, measuring in the most concrete way the improvement in her life.

To make it happen, the government has allocated huge resources, $ 20 billion this year alone. But the key, as always, was the collective mobilization towards the goal: about two million officials, mostly Party members, were sent to villages in the four corners of the country, with the task of eliminating the number of destitute .

They invented a bit of everything: from rural tourism in Inner Mongolia to deep-sea farming in Tibet, from village e-commerce, with the interested help of the giants of the sector, to classic industries, using roads and railways. that the government has built in the meantime. In places where there was no way to bring modernity, they made up for it with more or less explicit subsidies.

Now the point is to make the result sustainable. Don’t keep offering fish but teach people to fish, to quote a proverb that some think is Chinese. A much more difficult task. The government also knows this: this is why it has already anticipated that the battle against rural poverty will continue. But there is also another chapter to open, that of the growing wealth disparity in China, which is in fact creating pockets of poverty even where they had not been seen up to now, in urban areas.

Maybe not absolute poverty, but material poverty, given by the difference between starvation wages and a rising cost of living. The challenge for the Party now is to create a social welfare system that works systematically and to finance it with stable resources. From here passes the complete modernization of the Dragon, horizon 2035.

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