Xi Jinping claims victory over poverty but the numbers don’t add up

For the Chinese president, 99 million people have been lifted out of poverty in eight years, a gift for the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party. However, the base point is too low; in fact, 13 per cent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Doubts have also been cast on economic picture since it is based on data provided by the provinces.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China is poor-free, Xi Jinping announced today in an official ceremony. A hundred years after the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921, poverty has been eradicated, one of the Chinese president’s main goals, his “Chinese Dream.” In his view, the CPC has lifted 99 million people out of poverty in the past eight years.

Xi's proclamation, however, has raised more than one eyebrow among experts. China’s poverty line is around US$ 2.30 a day – slightly above the World Bank’s lowest threshold of US$ 1.90 but far below what is recommended for measuring higher income countries.

China is a middle- to high-income economy, and the World Bank recommends the higher benchmark of US$ 5.50 a day to gauge poverty in upper-middle income economies. According to data published by the South China Morning Post, 13 per cent of the Chinese population is still in need.

In August, Prime Minister Li Keqiang pointed out that 600 million Chinese, out of a population of 1.4 billion, have an income of just 1,000 yuan per month (US$ 154).

According to official statistics, the number of poor dropped to 5.5 million by the end of 2019. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the trend was reversed. Liu Yongfu, head of the government's poverty alleviation programme, admitted in May that since the beginning of 2020 380,000 Chinese have dropped below the poverty line.

If this is the case, in seven months, the government lifted nearly 5.9 million destitute people with an annual GDP growth of 2.3 per cent, the worst figure in decades, an unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent (constant in the second half of 2020), and a fall in per capita consumption of 1.6 per cent.

There are also doubts about the accuracy of the figures provided. Observers point out that local officials often falsify data, passing off family and friends as poor so they can get state subsidies. Li Keqiang has often accused local leaders of not presenting a real picture of the situation. On 21 November, during a video conference with the heads of five provinces, he ordered local leaders to “tell the truth” about the economic status of the regions they administer.

The high level of debt of local administrations risks wrecking the central government’s growth plans, which focus on increasing domestic consumption, and its efforts to eradicate poverty.