On December 14, 2020, President Xi Jinping made a historic announcement. All of China's rural population had been lifted out of extreme poverty under current standards. All 832 impoverished counties across the country had been removed from the poverty list. Nearly 100 million of China's intractably poor were now no longer mired in absolute poverty.
Reaching this milestone had taken eight years of sustained national commitment, championed personally by President Xi and implemented by hundreds of thousands of Party and government officials. There have been many challenges, of course, and many problems remain, but it is proper to celebrate the achievement.
I myself have been focusing on China's poverty alleviation campaign for over four years: I have engaged with poor farmers in remote mountain villages and I have interviewed officials and experts. We focus on the challenges of China meeting its poverty alleviation goals in this year of the global pandemic.
China had long set the national goal of becoming a moderately prosperous society by 2020 – but President Xi Jinping insisted that China could not claim to be a moderately prosperous society, no matter how high its GDP and income per capita, if even one Chinese citizen remained in absolute poverty.
To me, while all political systems have trade-offs, one of the probative insights into the governance and organizational structure of China's Party-led political system is the revealing parallelism between China's war to eradicate extreme poverty and China's war to contain the novel coronavirus epidemic.
The structural similarities are striking: President Xi's commitment, Party leadership, national mobilization. China's success in fighting poverty is due, in part, to its realistic recognition of problems, especially falsification of data and corrupt misallocation of poverty funds.
President Xi stresses that poverty eradication is a common ideal of humanity, and while each country has its own culture and conditions, China is willing to share its experiences.
While China this year will rightly celebrate the success of poverty eradication, after the festivities have concluded, there will still be substantial challenges going forward.