China’s lockdowns put working class, poor provinces at risk of ‘falling back into poverty’

  • A year after President Xi Jinping declared an end to extreme poverty in China, economic fallout from Beijing’s zero-Covid ambitions is taking a hefty toll on livelihoods
  • Central leadership’s ‘common prosperity’ push is said to have been put on back-burner until economy recovers

Authorities in China’s northeast provinces have issued guidelines to protect their low-income populations – including farmers and small-business owners – from falling back into poverty, as the latest coronavirus outbreaks put the livelihoods of people in financially vulnerable regions at considerable risk.

Liaoning province and neighbouring Jilin province, the epicentre of the country’s latest Omicron wave, vowed assistance on Wednesday to those teetering on the brink of poverty. This highlights the economic ramifications of China’s zero-Covid policy, which it is sticking to even while wrestling with its worst outbreaks in more than two years.

Strict pandemic controls have restricted mobility; weighed on client demand; crippled the manufacturing and services sectors; slashed small-business earnings; and now risk delaying the spring ploughing of fields in the northeastern breadbasket.

The disruptions stemming from Beijing’s zero-Covid goal also threaten to undo the efforts of President Xi Jinping’s poverty-eradication campaign, which China’s leadership last year hailed as an achievement “unseen in human history”.

China announced in February last year that it had lifted nearly 800 million people out of poverty in the past four decades, accounting for 75 per cent of the world’s progress during this period.

And now Beijing is looking to protect its achievement in the face of unforeseen headwinds, with vows to keep people above the poverty line by improving agricultural infrastructure for farmers; helping specific groups find jobs or learn new skills for employment; preventing mass unemployment; and other direct financial support, according to the annual report of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planner.

“It’s a great responsibility to ensure that previously destitute households do not return to poverty due to the pandemic,” a report in the Liaoning Daily said on Wednesday, citing the Liaoning Ministry of Rural Revitalisation.

“The complexity and difficulty of pandemic prevention and control in our province have had extremely adverse effects on rural production, labour migration, and agricultural product sales.”

Provincial authorities in Jilin said they will offer small loans; transport subsidies to migrant workers of up to 1,600 yuan (US$250); and subsidies to local companies hiring low-income workers. Additionally, there are plans to streamline the process for local farmers to sell their products.

Authorities from Changchun, the capital of Jilin, also said on Monday that 200 yuan (US$31.50) will be given to 45,000 low-income households and about 9,000 poor residents, in addition to care packages containing vegetables and some medical supplies.

Jilin has been one of the hardest-hit regions in the current Omicron wave, with infections soaring for nearly a month. The province of 24 million people has reported more than 60,000 cases since mid-March, accounting for more than a third of the country’s new cases.

Author: Cheryl Heng, SCMP

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