Chinese President Xi Jinping has addressed the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) regarding his drive to eliminate remaining pockets of poverty in the country by the end of 2020. This is a key pillar in Xi’s goal to transform China into a “moderately prosperous society” at the dawn of the next decade.
No country in history has lifted as large a number of people out of poverty as China has done, beginning in the late 20th century. At the turn of the 1980s, over 88% of all Chinese were living in poverty according to the international definition of having an average daily income of $1.90 or less. Today, China’s poverty rate hovers around 2% of the entire population or 30 million people. This poverty is now entirely confined to rural areas. By contrast, in the United States, poverty while mostly in rural areas, is also spread among improvised inner-cities.
While China has a population of 1.379 billion versus the US which has a population of 325.7 million, China has less poverty than the United States when measured both as a percentage of its population and in terms of individuals living below the poverty line. The current poverty rate in the United States is 12.6% according to a recent domestic academic study which measures poverty as those who earn less than $32 a day on average. This accounts for over 43 million Americans living in poverty in a country with a significantly smaller population than that of China. While the US domestic threshold for poverty is higher than the international threshold used by Chinese authorities, it is also crucial to remember that the cost of living in the United States is vastly higher than that in China. This is especially true when China’s biggest cities are factored out of the equation.
While some remain sceptical about China’s ability to eliminate poverty by the end of 2020, the record clearly shows that when it comes to tackling issues of extreme poverty in an extremely short period of time, China is not only able to achieve its goals but is able to do so in ways that put other countries to shame. While the poverty rate in the US has stagnated for decades, with the rate being 12.4% at the end of the 1970s with a slight increase to 13.7% at the end of the 1980s, China has dramatically gone from a state of near total poverty to the brink of eliminating all poverty in that same period.
With China lifting an average of 13 million people out of poverty each year in the last five years, President Xi’s goal of progressively eliminating poverty for 10 million rural poor each year until poverty is fully eliminated at the turn of 2021, is ultimately a realistic goal, albeit one with seismic implications.
While according to America’s own measurement of domestic poverty, little has changed over the past four decades, in China poverty rates have consistently gone down and continue to plummet according to the international standard. Although it is hopefully safe to assume that everyone in the world will welcome a reduction of poverty in every country, when it comes to the US claiming any exceptional position vis-a-vis China, this simply is not the case as a comparison between America’s stagnant poverty line and China’s rapidly falling poverty line makes clear.
But beyond poking holes in the myth of American exceptionalism, China’s ability to elevate large numbers of people out of poverty in such a short period of time is a further indication of why Chinese investment and assistance to developing nations will become an invaluable tool for fighting global poverty in the 21st century.
It would be foolhardy to assume that China could replicate its own success among its partners in the wider developing world due to the fact that much of China’s success is due to un-quantifiable factors including cultural characteristics. That being said, China’s model if modified to fit the needs of partner nations will be invaluable to countries across the world looking to stem in the tide of mass poverty among their populations. This is especially true of many African nations.
As part of China’s domestic drive to fully eliminate rural poverty, Chinese officials will offer “bespoke” solutions to individuals throughout China’s vast rural regions. If such techniques can be applied to impoverished populations abroad, China stands a better chance than any economic superpower of alleviating poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries than any other state that has even feigned an attempt to do so in the past. China’s victory against the scourge of poverty is all the more important as the international scale of measuring poverty is a far more appropriate signpost for developing nations than the US standard – one which the US itself has failed to adequately target in terms of poverty reduction.
Because of this, China’s prestige in the developing world is already generally higher than that of rival superpowers including the United States. Perhaps this is the real reason why the US has consistently attempted to undermine China’s record in eliminating poverty. China is setting an example to the developing world that one can become wealthy without submitting to the hegemonic power of the United States.