100 million in poverty by new standard

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The number of Chinese living in poverty is expected to reach 100 million if the country decides to consider people who earn up to 1,500 yuan ($229) a year as being poor, a senior poverty alleviation official has said.

To now be deemed impoverished, a person must make less than 1,196 yuan a year.

China is expected to place an even greater emphasis on fighting poverty in 2011, said Lin Jialai, executive vice-president of the China Association of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

"The income limit determining who is poor is probably going to go up to 1,500 yuan per capita net income a year, a 25 percent increase from the poverty line of 1,196 yuan a year set in 2008," Lin was quoted by the overseas edition of People's Daily as saying on Thursday.

"In that case, China faces new challenges to fight poverty in the coming 10 years, since the new poverty limit might cause the impoverished population to expand by up to 90 million people or 100 million."

With the current income limit, more than 35.97 million people officially live in poverty in China, according to official statistics.

The number would be even larger if the limit had not lagged behind economic growth and price inflation in China, Lin said.

In pursuing its Millennium Development Goals, China has at least one achievement to be proud of: It has cut the impoverished population in half in recent years.

The poverty-income limit in China, meanwhile, has been raised five times in the past 24 years. In the same period, the country's GDP rose from 778 billion yuan to 33 trillion yuan, or by 42 fold.

China's poverty-income limit is much lower than the absolute limit set by the World Bank - which is set at $1.25 a day, or less than 456 dollars (2,986 yuan) a year.

"Raising the poverty limit will enable more people to receive financial support from the government," said Wang Sangui, a professor specializing in poverty studies under the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development of the Renmin University of China.

"It's reasonable for China to lift its poverty limit to 1,500 yuan during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to match its rapid economic growth," Wand said, adding that the government's next goal should be to spend more money on programs meant to eliminate poverty.

Even so, Yu Jianrong, a professor of rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, opposes the proposed increase in the poverty-income limit, saying China should concentrate its efforts on helping those who are destitute.

"Currently, the resources used to fight poverty are very scarce," Yu told China Daily. "It's just like a cake. The more people who share in it, the smaller will be the piece that each gets."

"This will create new inequalities for those who are in the greatest need of government subsidies, since they will benefit less from this policy change."

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