Making 2020 a happy new year by winning the anti-poverty battle

Tom Zwart
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, 01 27, 2020
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A woman decorates a room for tourist homestay at Desheng village in Zhangbei county of Zhangjiakou city, north China's Hebei province, on Jan. 8, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

In his New Year's speech ahead of the Spring Festival celebration, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to enable all rural residents living below the poverty line escape the abyss in 2020 and to eliminate absolute poverty nationwide.

In this way he announced the final stage of a very successful campaign which saw about 14 million people shaking off poverty per annum on average during the past five years. This, undoubtedly, constitutes the most important human rights contribution of all time, with credit going to the central authorities and all central, provincial and local officials involved in the campaign.

However, the campaign owes its success first and foremost to the people who were living in poverty themselves. It is based on the targeted poverty alleviation policy adopted by the Chinese government in 2014, whose sophistication and effectiveness are self-evident.

The approach is not about giving handouts to poor people, but about encouraging them to lift themselves out of poverty through their own hard work.

According to President Xi, in achieving success in the poverty alleviation program it is important that their enthusiasm be aroused and that an appeal is made to their creativity. They should receive training to develop skills so that they can find jobs or open their own businesses.

At the same time, their desire to lift themselves out of poverty and work hard for a better life should be stimulated. Undoubtedly, the people have accepted the challenge by increasing their capacity for self-development.

Consequently, targeted poverty alleviation is a very good example of China's people-centred development. It makes clear that development is for the people, that it is reliant on the people, and that its fruits are shared by the people. People-centred development is based on the concept of "putting people first."

As President Xi made clear in his Congratulatory Letter to the International Symposium on the 30th Anniversary of the Adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, putting people first as part of development means increasing their benefits, ensuring that the people are their own masters and supporting development in an all-round way.

This philosophy consists of three elements. First, policies must focus on the people's needs. This means the government should address the pressing concerns of the people and should give priority to their interests.

Second, policy should tap into the people's accumulated wisdom. This means that policy should rely on their own experiences and practices. They are invited to provide input for and comment on government measures through online consultations and other channels of communication. This leads to policies that are more targeted and effective.

Third, the policies should stimulate the people to play an active role by showing initiative and by contributing ideas, creativity and enthusiasm in an all-round way.

Some commentators have occasionally expressed scepticism regarding the success of the targeted poverty alleviation program. They believed the policy was bound to fail due to being overambitious, unpopular within poor communities, and ineffective because of corruption.

President Xi's pledge has proved the sceptics wrong. Hopefully, they will now be able to acknowledge that China has won this "critical battle."

There are several reasons to do so. First, by reducing poverty, China is promoting the rights to subsistence and development, which are key human rights. Second, the policy of targeted policy alleviation is well captured by the saying that in order to feed a hungry person it is better to teach him how to fish than to give him a fish. Third, the concept of "putting people first" as applied to poverty alleviation is a very good way to give effect to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to its Preamble, it is up to every individual and every organ of society to promote and observe the rights laid out in this document: These should be brought to life by the people in their relations with other people.

Therefore, the Universal Declaration is very much a "people's charter." The policy of targeted poverty alleviation emphasizes the role people can and should play themselves to promote and protect human rights; it underscores the importance of the contribution made by businesses and other social actors; and it stresses the need to focus on local conditions. For these reasons, the concept is closely connected to the aim and the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Therefore, China's success in combating poverty deserves much praise and imitation by other countries.

Tom Zwart is Professor of cross-cultural law, Utrecht University.

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