China needs to wage a long-term battle against poverty and reduce the population living in poverty if it wants to build a well-off society, experts and officials told a seminar Thursday in Beijing.
The nation's anti-poverty campaign must shift from resolving subsistence problems to development problems as the notion of "poverty" changed with the society, said Yang Yiyong, expert from the State Development Planning Commission.
Statistics show that the gross domestic product per capita of China's urban population is 900 US dollars, compared with US$235 in 1992. However, the ratio of those receiving benefits from the government also climbed from 0.6 percent to five percent in the same period.
The increasing number of social security recipients did not mean more destitute people, but rather the improvement of the social security system, said Yang Yanyin, Vice-Minister of Civil Affairs.
Only those who were unable to work and earn or lacked people to support them financially were eligible to receive benefits under the planned economy when Chinese workers took low salaries but enjoyed a high level welfare.
After 1992, when the minimum livelihood was gradually introduced to Chinese cities, the government started to aid people living under that level.
So far, the government has allocated 10.5 billion yuan (US$1.27 billion) to 19.85 million urban and township residents this year to help them meet the current national minimum level of 152 yuan (US$18.4) per month.
As a result of economic restructuring and reform, the population living below the poverty line would become an unavoidable phenomenon in cities, said Wang Sibin, professor of sociology at Beijing University.
"During the 1980s and 90s, one by-product of the successful policies of reform and opening up has been a widening of some of the gaps in Chinese society at a time of increased population pressure," said Catherine Martin, official with the development section of the British Embassy to China.
However, she stressed, "We know the Chinese government places a high value on poverty reduction."
Experts said that as the country was striving to build a well-off society, it was necessary to help improve the quality of life of needy people and vulnerable groups.
(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2002)