Living on the edge: China's hidden poor
The nation has a very low bar for poverty but its poorest are ethnic minorities from Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Chinese Government broke with a 26-year tradition at the annual National People's Congress by not setting an economic growth target.
This was due to the huge negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that has already seen China's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contract by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter, with more bad news expected to come.
What Premier Li Keqiang did say was that the Government would focus its stimulus measures on domestic economics and, in doing so, he made the admission that 600 million Chinese live on US$140 per month or less.
The official poverty line in China is about one third of that (about $47 per month or 4,000 yuan per year) and covers only about 550,000 people.
With so many Chinese people surviving on such a low income, Government policies this year must focus on protecting their livelihoods during the economic turmoil that was already bubbling in 2019 only to be supercharged by the coronavirus.
China's State Council has also said that poverty alleviation this year will not only be about lifting the rest of the population above the poverty line but also about preventing those close to the limit from falling into poverty.
The setting of minimum wages is delegated to local governments in China. Income in central and western regions is significantly lower than elsewhere.
Poverty alleviation has been something of a mantra for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and goes to the heart of its perceived legitimacy as the "people's Government."
China has 52 officially recognized impoverished counties, concentrated in central and western regions, particularly in regions that have become known as the "Three Regions and Three Prefectures."
The three regions refer to the Tibet Autonomous Region, four Tibetan-inhabited provinces and four prefectures in southern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, while the three prefectures refer to Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province, Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan province and Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province.
As of the end of 2019, there were 551,000 rural impoverished people. Those earning $140 a month are officially above the poverty line, so are more geographically diverse. They are mostly migrant workers generally employed in the construction industry.
The unseen poor in China are little different from those across other parts of South East and East Asia, often rural migrants flocking to big cities to earn low wages that still give them more than they can earn from subsistence agriculture.
Michael Sainsbury, international.la-croix.com, June 2, 2020
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