China’s progress in fighting poverty has been a major theme in China’s domestic politics of late. In his government work report to the National People’s Congress, delivered one week ago, Premier Li Keqiang listed the “comprehensive victory in the battle against poverty” as one of four major achievements over the past year — the others being the “major strategic victory” against Covid-19, the building of a “fully prosperous society,” and China’s distinction in 2020 of being the only economy in the world to achieve positive economic growth. Last week, NPC delegates discussed ways of shoring up this “victory,” including the establishment of a “dynamic monitoring and assistance system to forestall a large-scale re-emergence of poverty.”
China’s bold claims on poverty eradication do not stand up to basic scrutiny, and many have questioned the government’s metrics as well as its clear political interest in leveraging this “historic leap” as a means of elevating Xi Jinping. Just how much of this is real, and how much power politics, domestic and global? Premier Li himself hinted at last year’s NPC that 600 million people in China, nearly half the population, live on the razor’s edge of poverty.
China’s leadership is determined to push right past the facts to promote the grand narrative of its anti-poverty victory – an “earthly miracle, written across the wide land of China.” This narrative has also now become a core part of the CCP’s external propaganda strategy and its foreign policy. China is fashioning itself as a global model of poverty eradication, claiming that it holds the secret codes necessary to reach the UN goal of ending poverty by 2030.
Foreign praise for China’s achievements on poverty has been regularly featured lately in the Chinese media. Earlier this week, on March 10, a report that UN Secretary General António Guterres had sent a congratulatory letter to Xi Jinping commending him for this “complete victory” (全面胜利) over poverty was given pride of position just to the right of the masthead of the official People’s Daily.
It was not clear, however, what Guterres had actually said. While the Global Times also suggested Guterres had praised China for “scoring a ‘complete victory’”, the letter was not available on the UN site or apparently anywhere else, and it was therefore not clear whether this was the secretary general’s own language or merely wish-fulfillment by Chinese propaganda officials.
Yesterday, Xinhua News Agency ran what it called an “exclusive interview” with Thai Ambassador to China Arthayudh Srisamoot in which he was reported to have showered praise on China’s anti-poverty achievements. But the “interview” offered few direct quotes from the ambassador, instead resorting to paraphrases closely in line with the CCP’s own narrative. “He highly praised China’s achievements in the field of poverty alleviation and said that China’s experience in targeted poverty alleviation should be learned by many countries,” said the report.
Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats have actively gone into selling mode, portraying China’s anti-poverty efforts as a model in media across the globe.
On March 5, Li Yang (李杨), China’s Consul General in Rio de Janeiro, wrote in Brazil’s Opinião: “As the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party approaches, General Secretary Xi Jinping has solemnly proclaimed that China has achieved a comprehensive victory in the battle against poverty. This is a miracle in the history of human development! This great victory is not only a glorious achievement for the Chinese people, but also has extremely significant world significance.”
On March 7, Ni Jian (倪坚), China’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, wrote in the Khaleej Times that “China has met the poverty eradication target set out by the UN 10 years ahead of schedule, contributing to over 70 per cent of the global reduction in poverty over the period.” Ni added: “China’s accomplishment is a miracle in the millennia-long human history of fighting against poverty, and rings an upbeat note at this dark moment for humanity.” A former official in Xinjiang’s Hotan prefecture, Ni also praised the Party’s efforts to fight poverty in the region, saying in the commentary that GDP growth in Xinjiang from 2014 to 2019 had reached 7.2 percent, and that the Uygur population had grown by 25 percent.
On March 9, Chinese Ambassador to Mexico Zhu Qingqiao (祝青桥) published a piece in the national newspaper Milenio called, “China’s Experience Supports Global Poverty Alleviation.” Once again, Zhu used the term “earthly miracle” (人间奇迹) to describe China’s achievements, and suggested that China was in possession of a secret formula:
China’s battle against poverty has achieved a comprehensive victory, and the Chinese nation has fulfilled its long-cherished dream of eliminating absolute poverty. Behind this earthly miracle, which has made a mark in history, are a series of original and unique China poverty reduction codes (中国减贫密码). They are not only valuable assets for China, but also provide new perspectives and new ideas for poverty reduction governance in other countries and regions in the world.
On March 10, Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian (肖千) wrote a commentary in Media Indonesia called, “The Chinese Code for the Human Poverty Reduction Miracle,” which “shared the valuable experience of China’s comprehensive victory in poverty eradication, introducing China’s positive contribution to the cause of poverty reduction in the world.”
The articles above are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is another in Qatar’s Gulf Times — “China: A Miracle in History of Poverty Alleviation.” In Canada — “China Creates a Miracle in World Poverty Reduction.” Yet another in the UAE, this time in print — “‘China Miracle’ in the History of World Poverty Alleviation.” In Kazakhstan. In Russia and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (source).