China should no longer have poor counties within 15 years: top official

China should have no more poor counties – at least by government standards – within 15 years, a top official on poverty alleviation says.

Liu Yongfu, head of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, told the Southern Metropolis News that hundreds of counties in China that were officially designated as poor would be lifted out of poverty by 2020.

If the government was to meet its target of “comprehensively” building a moderately prosperous society within five years, the country could no longer have any poor counties by that stage, Liu, a National People’s Congress delegate, told the newspaper on the sidelines of this week’s parliamentary meetings.

“If a poor area as big as a county still exists, then can Chinese society still be called moderately prosperous?” Liu was quoted as saying.

China has 592 counties that are officially designated as poor and 14 contiguous poor areas.

The two categories had some overlap and covered a total of 832 of China’s counties, he said.

The government had basically finished its first step in fighting poverty, which was to identify those people living in real poverty, he said.

Last year, the government identified 128,000 poor villages across the nation.

Each of them had met the criteria that each village’s poverty rate was twice that of the provincial level, that the village’s average income was lower than 60 per cent of the province’s peasants’ average income, and that the village did not have collectively-own business.

The government had also identified a poverty population of nearly 90 million people, whose annual income is lower than 2,300 yuan (about HK$2,900), he said.

Liu admitted that it was going to be a difficult task to eliminate poverty within a few years, especially in areas that are hard to reach.

“It is difficult for villages in remote mountain regions to change in only a few years, but there must not be absolute poverty where villagers’ annual income is lower than 2,300 yuan,” he said.

The National Audit Office conducted an investigation on poverty alleviation funds in 2013 in 19 counties in six provinces, and found that 234 million yuan of funds had been embezzled.

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