China Focus: Facing up to disparities

Source: Xinhua| 2018-03-15 12:58:10|Editor: Liangyu
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BEIJING, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Days before the annual legislative session, the Hurun Global Rich List 2018 ranked national lawmaker Ma Huateng, or Pony Ma, as the wealthiest person in China and the 15th wealthiest in world.

Ma, founder and chairman of Tencent, is among a number of entrepreneurs attending the annual sessions of the national legislature and political advisory body.

While the business insiders are discussing innovations in block chain and artificial intelligence, some attendees are worrying about the grave challenge of feeding the poor people.

It is fresh in the mind of political advisor Duan Minglong how hailstones destroyed large areas of crops in his hometown three years ago, depriving some villagers of their only source of income.

"A natural disaster or an illness can drag even a well-off household into poverty overnight," said Duan, 29, a judicial officer in Yunnan Province.

"Some people are so poor that they cannot afford to get ill," he said, although health insurance reimburses most part of the medical bills, the remaining fraction is still too much of a burden for some.


Last year, the average disposable income for rural people in Duan's hometown was only 9,464 yuan (1,500 U.S. dollars), less than one fifth of that of the residents in Shenzhen City, Tencent is headquartered.

Nationwide, the average disposable income for rural people was 13,432 yuan last year, about one third of that of the urbanites.

Defining the latest "principal contradiction" facing Chinese society, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress report reads, "What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life."

Delivering the government work report on March 5 at the opening of the legislative session, Premier Li Keqiang said China "faces a number of acute problems caused by unbalanced and inadequate development that remained unsolved."

He described poverty alleviation as a "formidable task," and mentioned disparities in development between rural and urban areas, between regions, and in income distribution.

While being the world's second largest economy, China is also the largest developing country with many disparities.

Although the country has the largest middle-income group in the world, around 400 million, there were still over 30 million rural people living under the poverty line at the end of last year.

At a press conference during legislative session, He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the greatest imbalance is that between the rural and urban areas, and the greatest inadequacy is in the development of the countryside.

National lawmaker Ran Hui is from western China's Chongqing Municipality, which reported a growth of 9.3 percent last year, after 15 years in double digits. But Ran's hometown is a village tucked away in the mountains with over one third of its 1,800 villagers in poverty.

As head of the village committee, Ran has been working to develop rural tourism, but her effort is frustrated by poor infrastructure.

She recalled that once a tour bus was stuck at the foot of the mountain for over two hours when it met a farm vehicle head-on on a narrow road.

"Roads, telecommunications, power and water supplies are the common problems of many rural areas," said Yang Decai, a national political advisor and economics professor at Nanjing University, who has conducted dozens of countryside surveys.

Insufficient education and medical resources also hold back the development of the countryside, he said.

National lawmaker Dong Caiyun is head of a primary school in the impoverished Jishishan County in northwest China's Gansu Province.

She remembers how she was amazed by the beautiful playground and facilities such as labs and dance studios in a Beijing school she visited.

"Our playground is just a piece of flat, hard mud, and we are not able to offer quality art courses," she said. "There is no music teacher, we just play recorded music in music classes."

Political advisor Yong Mei, a clinician from Inner Mongolia, still remembers that once a herder came to see her after a long journey from his remote hometown.

"He was so worried that he had not recovered despite a month of treatment in his hometown," Yong Mei said. The patient was diagnosed with a simple respiratory problem.

"Primary clinics in the pasturing areas lack both equipment and good doctors," she said. "Sometimes there is just one physician for a whole village, and the income is so low that doctors have to do farm work or graze cattle to sustain themselves."


To end poverty, China will put more effort into developing local industry, education and healthcare, according to the government work report.

More than 100 billion yuan will be spent on poverty alleviation in 2018, 20 billion yuan more than last year, said Vice Finance Minister Hu Jinglin.

President Xi Jinping has made a solemn promise on poverty reduction, with an ambition to eliminate poverty in all poor counties and regions by 2020.

More than 68.5 million people had been lifted out of poverty over the past five years. That means 37,000 people escaped poverty every single day.

Xi vowed that "no one should be left behind."

To fulfill this mission, Party and government officials took turns to stay in poor villages. They helped craft out individualized poverty reduction plans for every family and worked with them to achieve their goal.

Jiang Fu'an was one such cadre. In 2015, Jiang, then a prefecture government auditor, arrived at a remote mountainous village in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. He walked door to door to visit each of the more than a hundred poor households.

With his help, dozens of poor children got education near their home. But in 2016, before finishing his stint, Jiang collapsed on the job and died. He was just 26 years old.

Besides government efforts, social capital is filling development gaps.

As a political advisor, chairman Liu Qiangdong said his company will help poor rural areas improve logistics and build agricultural brands.

Ma Huateng suggested using digital technology to realize a more balanced development of healthcare.