Poverty is a curse affecting countries everywhere, including Latin America and the Caribbean. Having existed throughout history, it’s still the subject of heated debate about how it should be solved.
China’s Xi: We Will Eradicate the ‘Ghosts’ of Poverty
Views vary: some argue it’s impossible to eliminate; others claim only total elimination will suffice. Approaches vary equally: some insist that tackling poverty is the sole responsibility of governments; others stress it can only be resolved through the ‘trickle-down’ mechanism – by governments ensuring the rich get richer so that they can better help the poor.
No country has found a permanent solution or global formula, but eyes are increasingly turning to China, where results have been more than encouraging.
For more than 30 years, this vast, populous country has been pursuing approaches that have slashed the number of people living below the poverty line from 775 million in 1980 to 43 million in 2016.
In 2014, some 800,000 people were deployed to survey 128,000 impoverished villages housing 89.6 million residents. The researchers were given six months to report and, based on the findings, methods were prescribed, adopted and implemented as national policy.
Then, in November 2015, President Xi Jinping set poverty alleviation as one of his main objectives, designating it ‘The Baseline Task for Building a Moderately Prosperous Society,’ which China plans to create through ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics‘ by 2020.
China is pursuing poverty reduction, alleviation and eventual elimination through a targeted approach. However, with the deadline only two years away, it is racing against time with numerous challenges yet to be addressed.
For example, while successes have been largely based on job creation, recent surveys indicate that 46 percent of Chinese still living in poverty cannot be employed because of poor health. Besides, many among the rural poor have fatefully accepted poverty as a permanent fact of life.
At current rates of implementation, more than 10 million Chinese are being taken out of extreme poverty annually and this success is being applauded beyond its borders.
In October 2015, celebrating that the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had lifted more than one billion people out of poverty, then U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that China accounted for more than 75 percent of the world’s total decline in poverty in the previous three decades.
Two years later, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in Washington that China’s lifting of 800 million people out of poverty "is one of the great stories in human history. With China as the major contributor to the world’s poverty reduction progress, the ratio of people living in extreme poverty in the world has dropped to less than 10 percent, from 40 percent."
But China did not do it alone. The World Bank has been providing funding support to China since 1996. Together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Poverty Reduction Center was established in China in 2004.
The World Bank, UNDP, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Asia Development Bank have also been providing China with funds, ideas and technology.
China is not keeping its poverty reduction formula a secret, sharing both methods and resources with many countries and offering related assistance, especially to less-developed nations.
Official records indicate that, over the last few decades, 166 countries benefited from billions of dollars worth of interest-free Chinese aid. Beijing deployed some 600,000 people abroad to implement associated tasks. Medical aid has also been extended to 69 developing countries.
China has also helped 120 developing countries achieve their MDGs, while continuing to share its vision and contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
In September 2015, President Xi co-hosted the High Level Roundtable on South-South Cooperation at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. There he announced that, by 2020, China will provide developing countries with "100 poverty reduction programs, 100 agricultural cooperation projects, 100 trade promotion and aid programs, 100 environmental-protection and climate-change adaptation programs, 100 hospitals and clinics and 100 schools and vocational training centers."
Last year ended with more than 700 million people worldwide still living in extreme poverty, while China started 2018 aspiring to life 30 million out of poverty by 2020.
Poverty eradication, reduction and alleviation continue to be the elusive dreams of governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, but there’s a way out.
As noted at an international seminar on Global Partnership for Poverty Reduction in April 2017 by Ashwani Mutthoo, director general of the Global Engagement, Knowledge and Strategy Division of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, China’s approach is "both efficient and effective."
The theory and practice of China’s targeted approach shows that, with policy support and appropriate measures, it is possible to completely eradicate poverty.
With unemployment a serious problem in Latin American and Caribbean countries, the continental mainland and island states will do well to source help from China.
A good starting point can be through the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which is already engaged with China on several fronts.
During the January 23 Second CELAC-China Ministerial Forum in Chile, 21 regional states agreed to forge a new Pacific-Atlantic-Caribbean Silk Road trade route connected by and through land, sea, air and the internet.
Against that background, there’s nothing to prevent a similar joint approach to poverty reduction, which is as important to the region as the economic benefits envisaged through participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
There will naturally be hairs raised, lips stretched and noses snorted across the region – and beyond – by any proposal for the Latin American and Caribeean nations to take a page from China’s book. China-bashing is certainly not a new fad, but – truth be told – we are dealing with a nation with 5,000 years of history which has accumulated much experience to bring it to where it stands today.
Acknowledged or not, China is at the forefront of countries that can actually point to real and measurable successes in poverty reduction and alleviation – so much so that it can set poverty eradication as an achievable goal.
What, then, can be wrong about CELAC member states seeking to share China’s experience, instead of governments and agencies trying to outdo each other to reverse the region’s poverty cycle?
Earl Bousquet is a Saint Lucia-based veteran Caribbean journalist.