Xi Jinping shifts focus back to fight against poverty
President Xi Jinping has urged Chinese officials to redouble their efforts to fight poverty and pollution so that the Communist Party can deliver its promise of creating a “comprehensively well-off society” by the end of next year. South China Morning Post reports in its article Xi Jinping tells Chinese officials to ‘finish the journey’ and shifts focus back to fight against poverty that Xi told the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs, the Communist Party’s decision-making body on economic matters, on Monday that they must complete the “last mile” of a journey to eradicate absolute poverty in the world’s most populous country, according to statement published by the official Xinhua news agency. Xi’s renewed focus on two of his key policy goals follows a change in emphasis last year when the priority shifted towards keeping the economy on track amid a deepening slowdown.
“After the continuous efforts of several generations, we’ve basically realised the goal of building up a comprehensive well-off society,” Xi said. “But there are still some weak links, and we must speed up the process of fixing them.” Xi also told officials to concentrate resources in areas such as ensuring poor people in remote areas of the country have access to education, basic health care and safe housing.
Poverty reduction is one of the three “key battles” that Xi has promised to fight, along with pollution control and financial risk control, and the president recently made a tour of villages in a remote and mountainous area in the southwest of the country to see how the drive to eliminate the last pockets of poverty was progressing.
The 2020 goal is the first milestone in Xi’s grand dream for China that will see the country become “a modernised socialist country” by 2035 and a “powerful socialist country by 2050”. However, since last summer the focus has shifted to arresting a deepening economic slowdown amid the trade war with the US, which saw funds being channelled towards infrastructure projects and air quality control measures sidelined.
Yu Chunhai, deputy dean at the school of economics at Renmin University of China, said the country had somewhat downplayed Xi’s three “key battles” since the second half of last year as keeping economic growth on track became a priority. But the renewed focus on his plans follows reported economic growth of 6.4 per cent for the first quarter, which Yu said had given the leadership room to focus on long-standing challenges. “There is still foreign pressure, but the tension has been eased after many rounds of China-US trade negations,” Yu said.
At Monday’s meeting, Xi said China must “intensify countercyclical macroeconomic control” with efficient fiscal spending and the full implementation of tax cuts, which suggests Beijing is still alert to the risk of a downturn. But he also stressed that China must not let up in its efforts to tackle pollution and must meet its environmental goals for 2020, including a significant improvement to air quality in northern China.
Ding Shuang, chief China economist with Standard Chartered, said the top leadership was using this line to tell local cadres to prepare for economic liberalisation and deregulation. “When China joined the World Trade Organisation as an developing country, external forces pushed China’s reforms [at home]. Now as China is turning from a developing country to a developed one, there are domestic pressures to change again,” Ding said. “It also let [officials] know that the upcoming reforms will be good for the country and Beijing is not being forced by outside powers into doing so.”
In a sign of displeasure with local officials, Xi reminded them to avoid “fraud and cheating” and respect the key economic decisions taken at the annual economic work conference, which is usually held at the end of the year to chart the policy direction for the following 12 months. They were told all Chinese regions and departments had a “major political responsibility” to toe the line and warned not to “shout slogans loudly and implement them lightly”. Xi also chaired a Politburo meeting last Friday about economic policy, where the 25 members discussed a “better than expected” start to the year and decided to make economic reforms a priority.