Mon, Jan 08, 2018 - Page 7 News List

China to move millions from their homes in anti-poverty drive

Mass relocation from remote rural villages is part of Xi Jinping’s ambitious and politically charged push to eradicate extreme poverty in the nation by 2020

By Tom Phillips  /  The Guardian, PADANGSHANG VILLAGE, China

Xiao Ercha lives in a tumbledown shanty beside a pigsty, thousands of kilometers and a world away from the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of Beijing and Shanghai. Tatty mosquito nets hang from the bamboo poles propping up its cracked asbestos roof, while kittens and chickens can be seen scuttling across the shack’s earthen floor.

When asked to name the leader of his nation, the second-largest economy on Earth, Xiao shook his head.

“Xi Jinping (習近平) who?” the 57-year-old farmer said. “I recognize his face from the television, but I do not know his name.”

That is about to change. For Xiao, who was born and raised in this tiny mountaintop hamlet near China’s southwestern borders with Myanmar and Laos, is one of millions of impoverished Chinese being relocated as part of an ambitious and politically charged push to “eradicate” extreme poverty in the world’s most populous nation.

Over the next three years Xi’s anti-poverty crusade — which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term — will see millions of marginalized rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidized homes.

Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics — including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight — are also being used.

By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 6.16 yuan (US$0.95) a day, while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s, but in 2016 at least 5.7 percent of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10 percent in some western regions and 12 percent among some ethnic minorities.

A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history.”

In his annual New Year address to the nation last week, Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want.

“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said.

The wave of anti-poverty relocations — 9.81 million people are to be moved from 2016 to 2020 — are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces. However, China’s western fringes, which still lag behind the prosperous east coast, are a particular focus.

Last year, Guizhou, China’s most deprived province, was aiming to move about 750,000 people to about 3,600 new locations. More than 1 million people were set to be moved in Gansu, Sichuan and Guangxi, while Yunnan Province hoped to move about 677,000 people to nearly 2,800 new villages.

One such community is Padangshang, an isolated hilltop hamlet in Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna Prefecture. Provincial officials describe Xishuangbanna, a tropical land of rolling, mist-shrouded hills and jaw-dropping amber sunsets, as one of four key anti-poverty battlefields.

Padangshang’s 143 residents — tea, nut and coffee farmers from the Hani ethnic minority — began moving to their new, bright-pink homes in early November last year after abandoning a nearby hilltop where access to water was difficult.

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