05/26/2020, 15.27
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Increasing poverty turning Xi Jinping's 'dream' into a nightmare

The Chinese president had pledged to erase poverty by the end of 2020. Since the start of the year, 380,000 more Chinese are on the edge of poverty. Officially, 5.5 million are poor. Tens of millions of migrant workers have become uneployed because of the coronavirus. Protests against employers are growing. The government promises nine million new jobs.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Rising poverty due to the coronavirus is turning Xi Jinping's "dream" into a nightmare. Six years ago, the Chinese president said poverty would be eliminated in the country by the end of 2020, calling it his "China Dream.” However, economic problems have pushed that dream further into the future.

According to official statistics, in 2012 the number of rural poor stood at 99 million; by the end of last year, the figure had fallen to 5.5 million. The pandemic has reversed that trend.

According to Liu Yongfu, China’s top official on poverty alleviation, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 380,000 people have been added to those living on the edge of poverty. However, not everyone trusts government figures.

The Beijing Social Work Development Centre for Facilitators, a non-governmental organisation that helps migrant workers, estimates that 80 per cent of China's 290 million migrant workers returned to work after the lockdown was lifted.

This means that at least 58 million people, mostly from rural areas, are currently jobless, many more than those estimated by the government. In April, the official unemployment rate was set at 6 per cent.

For those who did go back to work, things are not easy. The China Labour Bulletin (CLB) notes that wages in Chinese manufacturing have in many cases more than halved as a result of the pandemic and the trade war with the United States.

In rural areas, the situation is even worse. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, per capita disposable income in the countryside in the first quarter of the year was 3,218 yuan (U$ 450), 3 per cent less than in the same period of 2019.

The growing unease among large segments of the population is leading to a rise in strikes and protests linked to working conditions. According to the CLB, hundreds of construction workers employed in Lianzhou (Guangdong) yesterday protested for non-payment of arrears. Scores of people who work for an auto maintenance company in Hubei have done the same, as did a hundred workers at a Shanghai mask factory.

At the National People's Congress, currently underway, Premier Li Keqiang promised to create nine million new jobs by the end of 2020. However, with the global economy in a recession, it is unclear if they will be sufficient to achieve Xi's "China Dream."

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