China joins global drive to eradicate poverty

It partners international agencies to launch competition for ideas in human development

China, a prime mover in the world's poverty reduction efforts, has now joined five international agencies to launch a global competition for the best ideas in human development.

It was announced yesterday at the third annual China Poverty Reduction International Forum, which was organised with partners such as the United Nations' World Food Programme and its Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Others include the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Experts have lauded China for contributing the lion's share to anti-poverty successes in recent decades, and for its aim to eradicate abject poverty within its borders by 2020, a decade ahead of UN targets.

"Eighteen years ago, the global community committed to reducing poverty and hunger through a global pact: the Millennium Development Goals," said World Bank acting country director for China Bekele Debele. "In 2015, most of those goals were achieved, with a special thanks to China for contributing to the lion's share of that achievement."

Since reform and opening up 40 years ago, China has enabled some 800 million people to lift themselves out of poverty through a mix of political will, targeted policies and agricultural reform.

This has also accounted for almost half of the global reduction in poverty in the same period.

For instance, it invested US$75 billion (S$101 billion) in agriculture in 2014, compared with just US$1 billion in 1991.

China's example shows that the eradication of poverty and of hunger through sustainable agricultural development "are two sides of the same coin", said FAO representative in China Vincent Martin.

The experience in fighting poverty that China has accrued over the decades holds many lessons for other countries, experts believe.

But China, too, has much to learn as it prepares itself for uncharted waters. It is faced with new problems such as high social inequality, a growing urban-rural divide, and a fast-greying population's impact on social security programmes.

These factors are colliding with global trends such as slowing global trade dampening job creation, and China's transformation from a largely agrarian into an urban society, according to Professor Samuel Freije-Rodriguez, lead economist of the World Bank's Poverty Global Practice.

"Once we've achieved absolute poverty reduction in China, what's the next phase?" asked ADB country director for China Benedict Bingham. "How does one then think about the threshold for poverty - clearly it needs to go up, but what are the metrics that are going to drive that?"

There is also the intractable problem of 25 per cent of the world's population which for the last 25 years has remained just above the poverty line. The answers to these thorny questions lie in greater two-way sharing on good practices and more joint efforts, which the global prize seeks to foster, said Mr Debele

The competition will run for three months, after which a review panel will select the 100 best submissions to be awarded. The case studies will be added to an online poverty reduction knowledge-sharing database.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'China joins global drive to eradicate poverty'. Print Edition | Subscribe