Wherever we lift one soul from a life of poverty, we are defending human rights. And whenever we fail in this mission, we are failing human rights.
— Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General
Among other items “proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “… human beings shall enjoy freedom … from want.”
The UDHR preamble goes on to state that “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person … have [been] determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
Article 25(1) outlines what each human should rightfully be availed of:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Accordingly, anyone lacking the rights listed in article 25(1) would be construed in some level of poverty.
Fortunately, the UN has committed itself to Ending Poverty, and it claims that it has made strides in that direction since 2000. However, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, threw a monkey wrench into the narrative that extreme poverty is nearing eradication based on the World Bank’s measure of extreme poverty. His report finds that more accurate measures indicate only a slight decrease in the fight against poverty in the past thirty years.
The current UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, in his September 2020 report pointed to challenges in dealing with poverty such as the COVID-19 pandemic and “how climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty.”
In the capitalist United States, 2019 statistics revealed that 10.5 percent of Americans live in poverty, a drop of 1.3 percent from 2018 — the lowest published rate since such estimates began in 1959.
Currently, the poverty situation is exacerbated by COVID-19 along with the fact that there are about 26 million Americans without health coverage (2019 figures).
Capitalist Canada, which has universal medical care, also continues to struggle with poverty. This is apparent from the proliferation of tent cities — indicative of homelessness. Sadly, this poverty is not always greeted with compassion for the downtrodden.
Regardless of a plethora of western-based billionaires and several western companies listed in the Fortune 500, there is a moral argument to be made that a society that permits the poor to sink in a sea of plenty is, to put it mildly, an unfulfilled society.
Imagine instead a place where everyone has a home, water and ample nutritious food, adequate clothing, and no one needs to fear becoming injured or ill and not receiving medical care. If a nation were to achieve becoming a compassionate society where the basic needs of all are met, should it not be shouted from rooftops across the globe? Shouldn’t other countries be exploring how they could achieve such human rights for all its citizens?
However, there is no need to merely imagine because there is such a place soon to be free of poverty. But the rooftops elsewhere are largely silent. Why? Because such a monumental feat is not being feted by the capitalist countries of the world. In fact, the self-proclaimed leader of the so-called Free World (albeit not free of poverty) has made the eradicator of poverty the enemy du jour.
In the US, the descriptor “Communist” is used as a pejorative by president Donald Trump and his officials.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said, “We gave the Chinese Communist Party and the regime itself special economic treatment, only to see the CCP insist on silence over its human rights abuses as the price of admission for Western companies entering China.”
The self-admitted liar, cheater, and thief Pompeo alleges the contradiction that the CCP could be simultaneously pulling people out of poverty and committing human rights abuses. Why should anyone believe him?
Since the 1980s, the Communist Party of China had lifted over 700 million people out of poverty. Now, China is nearing its goal to eliminate absolute poverty in 2020. Chairman Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CCP Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, has not wavered in ridding the country of poverty despite the imposition of COVID-19.
Xi has been feted by Chinese media for his visits and concern for poor villagers.
Poverty alleviation was a priority in his roughly 80 domestic inspections over the past eight years. These trips took him to some of the country’s most remote and impoverished areas.
He once cited an old Chinese adage: “Great leaders of nations treat their people like a father loves his son and an elder brother loves his younger sibling. They will be saddened to hear of their people’s hardship or toil.”
Xi’s personal history is one of having endured years of poverty, having spent much of his youth living with rural peasants. This experience contributed to Xi’s focus on poverty elimination.
Xi knows well that poverty is incompatible with socialism. Accordingly, the CCP has identified the factors causing poverty in various areas and devised for each case a custom poverty relief plan. The plans are then followed up on to ensure effective outcomes.
In Chinese history, the Mandate of Heaven justifies the ruler. The people are above the king whose rule is based upon the support of the people. To continue to rule, the king must ensure that the people are protected and provided for. This was reflected in Xi’s statement, “Poverty alleviation must have genuine effects that can win the approval of the people and stand the test of practice and history.”
Poverty is not just being fought on the Chinese homefront, China is also involved in the global anti-poverty fight, helping developing countries grow their economies and improve their people’s livelihoods. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has helped develop the economy of countries, creating employment and enhancing people’s lives.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce reports that “Chinese companies’ non-financial direct investment in 54 countries along the Belt and Road grew by over 33 percent to reach 72.18 billion yuan in the first seven months of 2020.”
The World Bank estimates that worldwide the Belt and Road initiative could help lift about 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million from moderate poverty.
The Leading Nation
Although China is already the world’s biggest economy, it is the eradication of poverty that places China at the forefront of global nations. Leaders in other countries would do well to learn what is applicable from the Chinese experience and provide for the needs of the populace. As their nations are signatories to the UDHR, they have committed themselves to this undertaking.
Many challenges still face China and the CCP. As the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
China sees the elimination of poverty as a necessary step in becoming a moderately prosperous society in all facets.