While addressing Communist party members in Beijing, China’s President Xi Jinping recently claimed that his country, during the last eight years, had achieved the “miracle” of eradicating extreme poverty. Lifting the rural masses out of extreme poverty had been one of the key initiatives of Xi since he became the President in 2012. According to criteria laid down by his regime, China has succeeded in removing from the “poverty list” the entire 98.99 million rural population in 832 poverty-stricken counties and 128,000 villages. Xi hailed this achievement as a “complete victory” that would “go down in history.” On the face of it, China’s achievement indeed appears to be miraculous. Living standards have gone up for a majority of the population — according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies China’s extreme poverty rate fell from 66.3 per cent in 1990 to just 0.3 per cent in 2018, making up for over 60 per cent of the decrease in global poverty. Equally pertinent, almost all Chinese children undergo compulsory school education, thereby matching the standards of developed nations, while child mortality has declined dramatically due to improvements in rural health infrastructure. However, a closer scrutiny would reveal that Xi’s “complete victory,” for a number of reasons, might merely be a pyrrhic one!
Experts believe that the criterion for poverty set by China is a low one. It may be noted that the nation puts its poverty line at around US$ 2.30 a day, which might be slightly above the World Bank’s global threshold of US$ 1.90 per day, but far below parameters set by developed nations. Such a poverty line envisages resources of citizens affording bare subsistence while being almost wholly dependent on the State for aspects such as education and health. Moreover, experts are also skeptical about the accuracy of Chinese data. Apparently, this had been garnered by officials who had gone door to door to determine whether basic parameters for declaring a family as poverty free, such as income, condition of house, education qualification of members of a household, possession of health insurance etc. were fulfilled. Such a methodology has, reportedly, resulted in large-scale data falsification whereby petty functionaries either fudged figures to enable friends or families to get State assistance, or to put the local administration in a brighter light! Moreover, the gap between the urban rich and rural poor continues to increase, a reality which might place added burden on the State to sustain the vast majority who continue to remain on the fringes of the poverty line. Above all, what makes Xi’s victory a pyrrhic one is the reality that China is an authoritarian State where the price of material gain is loss of personal liberties!