Poverty Alleviation White Paper, Political-Legal Rectification Campaign, US' Human Rights

Here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s April 7, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: The big story on the page is about the White Paper on poverty alleviation that was released on Tuesday. But before I get to that, let’s look at the two pieces covering Xi Jinping. First, he sent a message of condolences to Indonesian President Joko Widodo over the recent flooding and mudslide in Indonesia. Second, Xi sent a letter congratulating Xiamen University on its 100th anniversary. In the letter, he praised the university’s spirit oif “patriotism, revolution, self-reliance, and science.” 

Okay, now to the White Paper. The full text is available in English. But let me do a quick breakdown: From the preface: “Poverty is not predestined, nor is it unconquerable. China's experience in poverty alleviation indicates that courage, vision, sense of responsibility, and the eagerness to take on challenges are the most essential.”

The first section is titled “The Solemn Commitment of the CPC.” It talks about foreign aggression and imperial rule leading to poverty. But the first sentence is really fascinating to me. It seems that the Party is saying that it has achieved a goal that is not modern, but rather unique in China’s entire history. It starts saying “The Chinese nation has a long history, diligent and intelligent people and splendid civilization. Over the history of thousands of years, eliminating poverty has been the persistent goal of the Chinese people, who suffered hardships and difficulties frequently.” Then it talks about foreign invasion and the persistence of poverty. 

This is followed by a retelling of the Party’s version of history, which is aimed at creating this sense of a strategic plan that’s been in the works for decades. Of course, history is not that straight-forward. So, Mao’s era gets two paragraphs essentially arguing that it laid down the foundation of “socialist building.” There’s a reference to “setbacks” but there’s nothing about the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution, etc. Then we head straight to 1978, where perhaps this sentence is an acknowledgement that the Mao era wasn’t all that great.

“In the initial period of reform and opening up, confronted by the grim challenge of a large rural impoverished population base and a high incidence of poverty, the second generation of the central collective leadership headed by Deng Xiaoping issued a declaration that ‘Poverty is not socialism; socialism means eliminating poverty’.” This section ends with Hu Jintao. There’s a whole list of policy measures that were adopted, which have been highlighted. 

We then come to Xi’s time. It is at this moment that “China’s battle against extreme poverty had entered the toughest stage. It was hard to complete the task with conventional approaches and ideas. To achieve the goal of poverty alleviation, the nation had to pull together with greater determination, sharper thinking, more targeted measures, and extraordinary efforts.” What then follows throughout the section is a focus on how Xi “directed the battle (against poverty alleviation) in person.” So we get mentions of his observations, comments and directives and how many trips he’s taken to different areas. “He has visited every one of the 14 contiguous poor areas across the country and over 20 poor villages, and sat in the homes of impoverished households to hear of their difficulties, suggestions, and needs, building up their confidence and determination, and their belief that they can work their way out of poverty.”

The second section of the paper offers some more data on poverty alleviation, which is useful to note for future assessments too.

  • Per capita disposable income of the rural poor increased from RMB6,079 in 2013 to RMB12,588 in 2020, up by 11.6% per annum on average.

  • Basic medical insurance coverage of the poor is now over 99.9%.

  • Nine-year compulsory education is now available to all children from rural poor households, and the completion rate in 2020 was 94.8%.

  • Tap water coverage increased from 70% in 2015 to 83% in 2020.

  • Over 98% of poor villages have access to optical fiber communications (OFC) and 4G technology.

  • By 2015 all residents had access to electricity; and as of 2020, all county-level administrative units are connected to major power grids.

There’s an entire part in this section about specific policy measures to support women, children and the elderly. The next one talks about improving grassroots governance. It says that “Weak and slack grassroots Party organizations have been rectified and consolidated, and first Party secretaries and resident working teams are carefully selected and dispatched to poverty-stricken villages.” The emphasis here is on how right people were chosen, the community was involved in decision making and people participated and worked together to achieve targets.

All of this culminates with this bit: “This great victory shows that the CPC has held fast to its original aspiration and mission, and demonstrates its ability to lead politically, to guide through theory, to organize the people, and to inspire society. It shows the strength of socialism with Chinese characteristics in pooling resources to solve major problems.”

Section 3 talks about the strategy for targeted poverty alleviation. This covers six broad areas:

  • Identifying the right beneficiaries.

  • Strengthening Leadership and Team-building: This talks about the establishment of specific teams in rural areas, which were to work on poverty alleviation. “The first group of first secretaries and resident working teams were dispatched to poor villages in 2013. By 2015, all poor villages had resident working teams, and every poor household a contact official in charge of poverty elimination. As of the end of 2020, 255,000 resident teams and more than 3 million officials had been dispatched as first secretaries and resident officials to poor villages, fighting on the front line of poverty alleviation alongside nearly 2 million township officials and millions of village officials.” This part also talks about the anti-corruption campaign linked to the poverty alleviation effort.

  • Applying Targeted Measures for Different Groups: This covers relocation of people, provision of loans, job creation efforts, improving education and providing subsistence allowance, etc.

  • Adopting strict criteria to deregister people: This relates to preventing misconduct such as manipulation and falsification of data, and preventing those who have emerged from poverty from keeping the label.

  • Conducting follow-up.

The fourth section starts to build on the idea that this is a governance experience that China can share with the world. So it talks about poverty alleviation being an example of the Party’s “people-centered” development philosophy. It talks about how poverty alleviation is a difficult task and requires “that the leadership have devotion, strong will and determination, and the ruling party and government assume their responsibilities to the people, play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters, and ensure policies are consistent and stable.” It also requires a focus on development, which is “the most effective way to eradicate poverty and the most reliable path towards a more prosperous life…(and) can better guarantee people's basic rights and meet their desire for a better life.” Keep this last bit in mind as China argues for changes to the notion of universal human rights. Moreover, the paper says that “to achieve success in reducing poverty, a country must follow a path in line with its national conditions, identify and remove obstacles to poverty alleviation, find driving forces for this cause, and constantly adjust and reform its strategies and policies as circumstances and local conditions change.” 

The final section is about building a global community. This talks about China’s engagement at the UN, its commitment to sustainable development goals, its support to developing countries, its debt-relief announcements, the investments in BRI, etc. This paragraph has useful details about projects launched.

“China has launched international poverty alleviation cooperation projects for the benefit of all. In Asia, China and ASEAN countries have jointly launched a rural poverty alleviation plan, and carried out the East Asia Poverty Reduction Demonstration Cooperation Technical Assistance Projects program in rural communities of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. In Africa, China has helped African countries build water conservancy infrastructure, vocational and technical schools, government-subsidized housing, and other facilities, set up demonstration zones for agricultural cooperation, and carried out China-Africa cooperation projects involving a Chinese-invented technology using grass to grow mushrooms, China-Africa friendship hospitals, and the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In the South Pacific region, China has promoted measures such as grant aid and concessional loans to Pacific island countries, and carried out technical cooperation assistance projects in infrastructure construction, agriculture, and medical care. In Latin America, China has built agricultural technology demonstration centers to help local people in recipient countries shake off poverty. China has also set up the International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education and other institutions in cooperation with UNESCO, and carried out projects on rural education transformation and teacher training for countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and other regions.”

The next paragraph is also useful for anyone following Beijing’s diplomacy with regard to poverty alleviation: “China has shared its experience on poverty reduction. It has carried out exchanges and cooperation in various forms, including building platforms, organizing training, and conducting think tank exchanges. Together with UN agencies in China, the Chinese government has convened sessions of the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. China has initiated the China-ASEAN Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and the International Forum on Sharing Poverty Reduction Experience, and has hosted a series of discussion and exchange activities including the China-Africa Poverty Reduction and Development Conference, the International Seminar on Poverty Eradication and Responsibility of Political Parties, and the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China. In cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat and relevant ASEAN countries, China has launched the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and the ROK) village official exchange program for grassroots village officials and community officials. China conducts international training on poverty reduction with relevant countries and regional organizations. Since 2012, it has held over 130 international training sessions, attended by officials from 116 countries and organizations.”

The concluding section basically talks about how despite this “victory” being achieved, China remains “the world's largest developing country” and faces challenges of “unbalanced and inadequate development.” It talks about how national rejuvenation needs a “thriving countryside,” and outlines broad goals for 2035 and 2050. Also useful at the end is the clarification of the standard used to measure poverty.

In 2011, China readjusted the standard to RMB 2,300 (based on the 2010 price index) to help 122 million poor. “In the final stage of fighting extreme poverty, impoverished people in China were registered and deregistered by household. The criteria are personal incomes, and the household’s situation with reference to the Two Assurances and Three Guarantees. The former requires that the annual average per capita income for a household remains steady above China's current poverty line. The latter refers to guarantees of adequate food and clothing, and access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing for impoverished rural residents.”

Page 2: There’s an interesting commentary on the page about the importance of thought and ideology as one studies Party history. It says: “Thought is power. If a nation wants to be at the forefront of the times, it cannot be without theoretical thinking for a moment, and it cannot be without ideological guidance for a moment. Adhering to ideological building of the party and being good at using Marxist theories to rejuvenate and strengthen the party is a major political advantage of our party.” It further adds: “Whether a theory has the power of truth depends on whether it can scientifically answer the questions of history and the times.” The evidence for this, for the author, is in the evolution of the Communist Party from the valleys to the corridors of power. Therefore, “to promote the study and education of party history, the most important thing is to strengthen the ideological and theoretical arms, and to further learn and understand the socialist thoughts with Chinese characteristics in the new era.”

Page 3: A few pieces to note. First, International Liaison Department chief Song Tao spoke to the Deputy Speaker of the Bangladesh parliament Fazle Rabbi Miah. They talked about increasing inter-party exchanges, BRI and work on poverty alleviation. Second, there’s comments from Zhao Lijian about an NYT piece on Anti-Asian Violence in the US. He said:

“In the US, racism is a systemic and persistent existence covering every aspect. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members openly used racist slogans to preach white supremacy, incite racial discrimination and hatred. US history has recorded the horrific systemic ethnic cleansing and slaughter of Native Indians, which constitute genocide and crimes against humanity. US law enforcement brutality has led frequently to death of African Americans. In the workplace, racism is a deep-seated problem. Discrimination against ethnic minorities is a prevalent presence across the whole society. We hope the US will earnestly honor its commitment to protecting human rights, cracking down on discrimination and hate crimes against ethnic minorities including Asian Americans and earnestly protecting the rights of ethnic minorities so that they will be free from the nightmare of discrimination and hate crimes and no longer live in violence and fear.”

Finally, there’s a short report on two China-Arab forums; the first’s an entrepreneur conference and the other focuses on investment.

Page 4: One story to note. Guo Shengkun, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Committee, spoke at a meeting taking stock of the rectification campaign targeting the political and legal apparatus. He said that the first batch of education and rectification work has started smoothly, with learning and education tasks being effective. The investigation and correction phase will soon be launched, he added. 

More details are available here. From what I understand, some 364 provincial-level guidance groups have been formed as part of the first phase of the campaign. 16 central supervision groups are led by leaders at the ministerial level and stationed in various places to supervise the whole process, and Party history education is being made a key part of this campaign. 

What officials part of the political and legal apparatus are going through are lectures, training and lots of self-study, focussed on improving political education. This has three goals. First, teach Party history to ensure that they “recognize why the Communist Party of China ‘can’, why Marxism ‘does’, and why socialism with Chinese characteristics is ‘good’.” The next is to emphasise Xi Jinping Thought, and finally focus on revolutionary history. 

There’s also something called “warning education,” which focuses on ensuring that officers understand the disciplinary requirements and how things work. So there’s an effort to organize police officers to observe court trials, setting up real-life classrooms in prisons and courts, and letting the ‘lost’ police officers appear and speak...” There’s also a component of all this which calls for focusing on learning from heroes and role models. Specific activities in this context are being carried out.

While this work seems like it will continue, there’s now a move towards the investigation phase. This focuses on “eliminating the black sheep.” This requires focus on:

  • “Identify two-faced people who are disloyal and dishonest to the party.”

  • “Thoroughly investigate the "protective umbrella" of the evil forces.”

  • “Thoroughly investigate law enforcement and judicial corruption.”

  • “Rigorously investigate corrupt behaviors that have not stopped since the 18th CPC National Congress.”

Page 6: Two pieces about Xinjiang, building on the recent propaganda documentary that was released. The first repeats the tale of Shirzat Bawudun, an official who became the police chief in a county in Hotan, but Beijing says was working with the ETIM. Here’s the English version of this narrative. The PD story is about the High Court in Xinjiang talking about Bawudun. The other story is about Sattar Sawut, former director of the Xinjiang education department and former head of the region's leading group on basic-education curriculum reform. He is accused of (English version) incorporating “ethnic separatism, violence, terrorism, and religious extremism content into minority-language textbooks.” Same here, the PD story is about the High Court talking about the case. 

Page 8: Li Zhongjie, former deputy director of the Central Party History Research Office, writes about learning from the past 100 years to deal with current challenges. There’s lots of rhetorical flourishes, but his idea is that the Party needs to focus on a few things. 

First, follow the trend of the times, i.e., “put innovation at the core of the overall national development, firmly implement the innovation-driven development strategy, and constantly promote innovation in theory, system, culture and other aspects.” Second, have confidence but enhance “bottom-line thinking” and be prepared for a difficult external environment, along with black swans and gray rhino events. Third, focus on self-revolution, i.e., “on the new journey, our party must continue to lead the great social revolution with a knife-edge self-revolution, and build the party to always be at the forefront of the times.”

Page 16: On the international page, Li Yunlong, professor at the Central Party School, writes a long piece about the US’ human rights record. He attacks the US’ pandemic management. At one point he even criticises the US government (under Trump) for wanting to restart the economy early “out of political self-interest, resulting in the spread of the epidemic from the original New York area to the south and west.” Then Li talks about historical issues, from the Native Americans to African Americans, George Floyd’s death, gun violence, poverty and inequality, etc. Li ends by saying: “How can a government that cannot even guarantee the safety of the people in its own country have the right to comment on human rights in other countries?”