China's Poverty Reduction and the Millennium CampaignThe fight against poverty is a massive undertaking. While China’s poverty reduction has helped the United Nations (U.N.) reach its goals, there is still a ways to go. For real and lasting progress to be made on the task of lifting millions above the poverty line, the global community has no recourse but to rely on the collective efforts and data of the global community. However, by synergizing the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and governmental institutions, the uphill battle of poverty reduction remains fierce but not insurmountable.

The United Nations Millennium Declaration

In September 2000, following a three-day diplomatic marathon of deal-making and goal-setting, the U.N. General Assembly approved the United Nations Millennium Declaration. With this agreement, the U.N. adopted more than 60 goals. These goals included improving the environment, encouraging peace and development, promoting human rights, combating hunger and pursuing global poverty reduction. Following this daring declaration, the United Nations Millennium Campaign was put into effect. More than 180 member states agreed to the campaign as a means of achieving these goals by 2015.

Moving The Goalpost

The U.N. claims to have not merely achieved its goals but achieved them ahead of schedule. However, a closer look will reveal how this celebration may have been premature. Yale professor and development watchdog Thomas Pogge pointed out that following the signing of the original declaration, the U.N. rewrote it to reduce only the proportion of the world’s population living on less than $1 a day. Previously, the U.N. had planned to decrease the overall total number of people living in poverty.

It is estimated that this change reduced the goal by 167 million due to population growth. Also, the campaign shifted the focus of what constitutes “poverty” to be based solely on income levels. The World Bank determines extreme poverty by the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day. Changing the variables made it easier to achieve the goal. Additionally, according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty is still more than 4 billion.

With the Millennium Campaign’s goals, moving the finish line and still declaring victory makes it more difficult to establish the current standing of global development and progress. This is especially true when it comes to China’s poverty reduction rate. It also, as an unintended consequence, has the potential to dwindle the severity of the current state of global poverty.

In an attempt to show a more impressive poverty decrease, the Millennium Campaign retroactively included data stretching back to 1990. By doing this, the impressive dip in poverty was mainly due to China’s poverty reduction progress during those 10 years.

China’s Efforts

Also, numeric data aside, one cannot underestimate the role semantics plays in perceived poverty reduction. China’s state-run media has proclaimed, “China has lifted 700 million people out of poverty through more than 30 years of reform and opening-up.” And China declares its intention to “lift” even more out of abject poverty.

Skeptics have pointed to the phrase, “lifted out of poverty,” as a purely Westernized regurgitation. China’s preferred usage of “fupin kaifa” (扶贫开发) translates as “assist the poor and develop.” So, while China’s poverty reduction accomplishments are commendable, the translation conveys a larger achievement than what it actually is. However, China does deserve credit for achieving no small feat in raising millions above the poverty line.

The global community has much to be proud of considering how far the world has come in the work of bettering lives. If the mammoth task of combating poverty and promoting development is going to be successful, the goals needs to acknowledge the truth about the current situation.

– Connor Dobson
Photo: Flickr