China’s Poverty Alleviation Model: A Miracle to Explore

While Pakistan can adopt the Chinese poverty alleviation model, it needs to do so with modifications based on its governance system. The Communist Party of China was a significant factor in China’s economic prosperity due to its long-term, strategic policy-making, but can Pakistan’s diverse political structure embrace a similar challenge and rise to the occasion? Studying the Chinese model is particularly important given Prime Minister Imran Khan’s continual reference to what the Chinese have done and desire to learn from them.


President Xi Jinping, on 25 February 2021, announced the end of absolute poverty in China. Four decades ago, more than 80 percent of its population lived below the poverty line; it managed a miraculous feat in taking 770 million people from poverty.

China surpassed all countries in this race by achieving this target ten years before the prescribed deadline by the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The World Bank commended this achievement and underlined that China’s actions to this effect have no precedent in history; it constitutes 70 percent of global poverty alleviation.

The country celebrated the triumph, and President Xi distributed appreciation medals amongst the heroes of this fight against poverty. Several factors stand out when looking at this achievement. First, China ensured success by exhibiting a strong commitment to the cause.

It adopted a comprehensive policy and execution framework under the leadership of Communist Party of China (CPC) to realize the dream of a poverty-free China. It devised long-term (century goals), medium-term (fiveyear plan), and short-term plans (Central Economic Work Conference), etc., to achieve the objective.

Inclusiveness is another prominent feature of all policies and plans, which was ensured at designing and implementation phases by engaging local communities and cadres
of the party. The CPC leadership ensured the continuity in implementation by erecting a Leading Group on Poverty Reduction and Development in 1986.

Under the guidance of the CPC Politburo Committee, the leading group defined the duties of each tier of government. It was decided that policy direction and decision-making are the Party and State domain and that provinces are responsible for the outcome. Cities and counties will be implementers at ground level. Concurrently, China also kept on reforming policy and actions according to need.

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President Xi’s reforms

President Xi Jinping built on the philosophy of continuous reforms. Since his inauguration as President, he started to reform the economic policy. He was convinced that the last leg to
achieve a poverty-free China would be the toughest goal and that China needed to be innovative and efficient to meet the challenge.

First, he shifted economic focus from high-speed growth to high-quality development with humans and nature at the center. Second, he believed that without improving governance and eradicating corruption, nothing could be achieved. Thus, President Xi declared corruption as the biggest evil in the fight against poverty.

He launched a comprehensive campaign against corruption at all levels without discrimination. The campaign results are visible now; an atmosphere where corruption is discouraged in the strongest terms is prevalent in China. It helped alleviate poverty and paved the way for China to enter a new era.

Third, he strengthened the CPC’s role and mobilized its cadres/members all over the country. Ten million people were mobilized during the last phase of poverty alleviation. It was done systematically and according to the need. First, cadres were deployed to collect household-specific data.

Second, the government deputed helpers for households and assistance teams for villages. The assistance teams were formulated by analyzing the data of each targeted area. It was ensured that assistance should be deputed according to the required expertise in a targeted area.

For example, an area with a large farming community would require a team of experts from an agriculture background. Third, CPC ordered that teams not be allowed to leave the site until poverty has been eliminated. It was a game-changing intervention to infuse the spirit to achieve the target within the perceived time frame.

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Six precise measures

China’s Poverty Alleviation Model

President Xi launched a program of six precise measures. The first element of which was to collect accurate information. The information should not be random or general; it should
be about the household and individual. The cadres were given specific instructions to achieve this target.

Second, the project’s design and management must be targeted, and there should be no general statements. Every action point of a project must be focused on the objective and followed by concrete intervention and financial resources. There was no space
for fancy slogans or publicity stunts.

Third, allocation and spending of funds should also be managed appropriately, and there must be no embezzlement. Corruption (monetary or obliging the relatives or friends) should not be tolerated at any cost on any level. Financial autonomy was ensured at the local level but with strict accountability.

Fourth, the intervention programs must be designed according to the need of the households. It meant the unique needs of each household were to be considered, and accordingly, interventions were designed.

Fifth, the state’s teams must be stationed keeping in mind the extent of poverty, accessibility, and community needs, and sixth, the results presented by staff deputed in an area must be verified by a third party, and preferably universities and students should be involved.

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Lifting people from poverty through five interventions

President Xi also gave a vision of Five Batches. First, efforts were made to create jobs, either by engaging industry or motivating people towards self-employment. People were encouraged to engage in entrepreneurship, and technological advancement was used as an instrument. Second, relocation was adopted as a strategy.

The government relocated people who were in difficult or no connectivity zones or lost productive resources like land or degradation of resources to places with better economic opportunities. Third, people were invigorated to protect fragile areas and resources without compromising on their needs.

It was done by creating jobs like woodcutters becoming forest rangers, shepherds becoming grass rangers, etc. It served a dual purpose; on the one hand, it helped to protect the environment and resources, and on the other hand, it created jobs.

Fourth, education was perceived to be the main instrument to uplift the living standard of people. China made special efforts to provide education in the most impoverished areas. It helped improve the average number of years of schooling; by 2020, it was 10.8 years.

Fifth, subsistence was only allowed for those who cannot work due to age or disability. It was used to secure the rights of the most vulnerable people.

China’s Poverty Alleviation Model
Source: State Council Leading Group oce of Poverty Alleviation and Development, Yearbook of China’s Poverty Alleviation and Development (2015/2016); China’s State Council Imformation Oce; China’s National Bureau of Statistics

Key features

The most prominent of these policies was the “creation of employment” through industry or self-employment. It was used as a strategy to serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, it helped to eliminate poverty, and on the other hand, it infused the spirit of hard work among the people.

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According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security statistics, more than 90 percent of people broke the poverty trap by industry or employment-driven activities. The government encouraged people to go for self-reliance rather than looking for subsistence allowances.

The industrial sector also played a positive role through the policy of 10,000 enterprises and 10,000 villages. Each enterprise was given the task of working with a village to create livelihood and income opportunities. In a nutshell, China’s success can be attributed to four key areas: Leadership of CPC and Governance, Six Precision measures, Five Batches, and Industry and Employment.

Lessons and opportunities for Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan admires the Chinese poverty alleviation model and expressed interest in learning from the model. It is good to note that China is willing to share its experience and join hands with Pakistan to combat poverty. Against this backdrop, both governments have decided to launch a joint poverty alleviation platform.

However, to benefit from the Chinese model, Pakistan needs to ponder over two questions: One, what are the key factors of Chinese success? Two, will Pakistan be able to apply the Chinese model?

Based on the above discussion and review literature, the key factors of success can be summarized as: accurate data, eradication of corruption, decentralized implementation, continuous reforms, and unity of political leadership.

So, will Pakistan be able to apply the Chinese model? Yes, but with certain modifications and reforms in the existing system, as it has a different governance system. Pakistan cannot adopt the Chinese model, but with reforms, it can achieve the desired results. By keeping in mind the circumstances, the following reforms must be undertaken.

First, to play CPC’s role, political parties need to define the national agenda for poverty alleviation, each government’s role (federal, provincial, and local), and ensure consistency without regard to who is in power. This is a critical factor in ensuring success against poverty due to multiple factors, especially after the 18th amendment.

Elections occur in Pakistan after every five years, which generally leads to a change in the ruling party. Owing to ideological differences, the new government tries to
abolish or rename previous government programs like PTI changed the name of BISP to Ehsaas program.

The 18th amendment has further complicated the scenario as provinces are quite independent now. If the ruling parties are different at national and provincial levels, it becomes difficult for them to work smoothly due to differences in ideology and priorities. Thus, political consensus is direly needed.

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Second, Pakistan needs to work on the eradication of corruption. Although it has an elaborate anti-corruption system, corruption is still rampant across the country. The crime has shaken the country’s roots, and now it is struggling to manage the finances for development and poverty reduction.

Thus, corruption-free Pakistan is need of the time. For that purpose, Pakistan needs to bring out politics from the anti-corruption organizations and implement the anti-corruption agenda in its true spirit. There should be no one above the law, and every corrupt person must be punished.

Third, Pakistan must strengthen the local governance system to eradicate poverty and learn from China how devolution was implemented to do this; by clearly defining each level of government’s role. The most important element of devolution would be financial devolution. Although local governance is the basic ingredient of democracy, in Pakistan, political parties show resistance to devolve power to the local level.

It is quite evident after the 18th amendment, all political parties were happy at the devolution of power to provinces, but they were unwilling to extend it further to the local government. The ruling elite of Pakistan must understand that without devolving implementation to the local level, the dream of development and poverty cannot come true.

Fourth, Pakistan needs to come out of the mentality of a “subsistence allowance” strategy. It is harmful as it encourages people to go for easy money. It is also a burden on the national exchequer and creates difficulties for the country in the long run.

The subsistence allowance must only be for the disabled or elderly people who cannot work or have no other means of earning. Pakistan should focus on employment generation opportunities. People should be encouraged to go for entrepreneurship.

Industries should be assigned tasks to contribute according to their financial status, and it should not be done through CSR; rather, it should be done by creating jobs and market opportunities for common people. In conclusion, if Pakistan successfully introduces the above reforms, only then can it fully reap the benefits of a close partnership with China.

In addition to the bilateral partnership, Pakistan can also benefit from Six 100 Programs, including 100 poverty alleviation programs, 100 agricultural cooperation programs, 100 trade-promotion programs, 100 ecological protection and climate change programs, 100 hospitals and clinics, and 100 schools and vocational training centers.

China has launched these programs to help other countries to fight the menace of poverty. In the absence of these reforms, Pakistan will not be able to benefit as much from cooperation with China.

Shakeel Ahmad Ramay is the author of the book: Understanding China for Future Co- operation. He is also a political economist with a strong background in policy research, economic forecasting, global diplomacy, and changing dynamics of global governance and training. He tweets@ShakeelRamay.

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