At the critical point of the battle against poverty, ethnic minority areas, especially the “three areas and three prefectures,” created a large-scale poverty alleviation network combining policies, special programs, industries, finances, assistance, party-building and infrastructure. In these ethnic minority areas, poverty alleviation projects were carried out and multiple aspects of poverty alleviation work conducted were closely related to impoverished families and individuals, and covered industry, employment, ecology, education, health and social security. Notably, new measures were taken in these areas, and solid progress was made in consolidating the achievements of poverty alleviation. This effectively reduced the risk of slipping back into poverty and prevented potential new poverty risks. Follow-ups after relocating the impoverished were implemented, and the the self-drive and self-development abilities of impoverished areas and people were enhanced.

The main experiences of ethnic minority areas in stimulating poverty alleviation and securing decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects were as follows:

  1. 1.

    Using top leadership in these areas to attach great importance to promoting poverty alleviation by specifying clear objectives, allocating responsibilities to subordinate departments at different levels, and giving full play to institutional advantages and the efficiency of concentrating forces on major tasks

The top-level design of China’s poverty governance formed the overall layout for poverty alleviation. A report at the 19th CPC National Congress indicated that the energy of the entire Party, country and society should be mobilized, and targeted poverty reduction and alleviation measures should continue to be implemented. They were to operate based on a working mechanism whereby the central government would make overall plans, provincial-level governments would take overall responsibility, and city and county governments would ensure implementation, strengthening this responsibility system in which the chief leaders of the party and government would take overall responsibility (The Party History and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee 2018). These principles were highlighted in the battle against poverty in ethnic minority areas and the “three areas and three prefectures”.

In Tibet, a headquarters for poverty alleviation was established, headed by a Member of the CPC Standing Committee of Tibet and the Executive Vice Chairman of Tibet. The headquarters was composed of capable personnel from relevant departments, and 11 special teams were established, responsible for areas such as policy and support, planning and design, relocation of impoverished people and employment. Related headquarters were also set up in cities, counties and townships throughout the region. In this way, a working mechanism was established whereby top leaders at all levels took charge of poverty alleviation, department leaders dealt with specific poverty alleviation matters and relevant departments worked in coordination, thus forming greater synergy to solve the problems of poverty alleviation (which involved a wide range of complicated tasks), and to ensure the smooth progress of all poverty alleviation work.

The CPC and government officials have played an important role in the battle against poverty in the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang. In 2018, the People’s Government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region dispatched more than 70,000 officials to southern Xinjiang to help impoverished residents in over 10,000 villages shake off poverty. In the same year, the Government selected 1289 first CPC secretaries for 1289 severely poverty-stricken villages in the four prefectures in southern Xinjiang, including 31 department-level officials, 869 division-level officials, and 389 young division-level reserve officials and other excellent officials. Institutions of higher learning in Tibet also selected 1289 staff members, 546 of whom had bilingual ability.Footnote 4

In 2018, the People’s Government of Sichuan Province introduced 34 policies and measures concerning 12 areas of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture on top of the 10 existing customized poverty alleviation programs, and set aside RMB 3.708 billion of funds for poverty alleviation at all levels. The Government released the Implementation Plan for the Selection and Management of Comprehensive Assistance Teams for Poverty Alleviation in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, and selected more than 5700 officials to form comprehensive assistance teams to visit 11 severely poverty-stricken counties in the prefecture in order to implement a three-year poverty alleviation and comprehensive assistance program.Footnote 5

The leading provincial and regional level officials in Qinghai, Yunnan, Guangxi, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia were deeply involved in poverty alleviation, planning, promoting, and supervising poverty alleviation. The “five-level CPC secretaries” comprehensively fulfilled their responsibilities in poverty alleviation and continued to promote poverty alleviation work.

In 2019, the governments of ethnic minority areas turned addressing the problems stated in the national review of poverty alleviation work into a major political task, proactively identifying gaps and adopting special measures to handle these issues. These governments continued to take responsibility for alleviating poverty, with a view to comprehensively improving the quality and efficiency of poverty alleviation work.

Traditional development economics, academic theories and perspectives, such as the trickle-down theory, credit economic growth with poverty reduction (Chenery et al. 1974; World Bank 2000; Dollar and Kraay 2002), the “immiserizing growth” that emerged alongside economic growth in some countries in the 1960s (Whitfield 2008), and the “pro-poor growth” that has evolved since then (Ravallion 2001), suggest that while the experience of many countries has proved the positive role of economic growth in poverty reduction, the scale of this role is dependent on structural features and supporting security measures in place during the course of economic growth  (Li and Wei 2016a, 2016b). Studies have shown that the reduction of poverty in China began to slow down significantly after the mid-1980s (Zhao et al. 1999). This means that China’s reduction of poverty was gradually compromised by its economic growth. After China had experienced rapid economic growth for a long time, the problems of uneven regional development, the increasing urban-rural income gap, and large base population living in poverty not only limited the reach of benefits from economic development, but may also negatively affect future economic development potential. The experience of many countries has demonstrated that bridging the economic development gap is not an easy task, and this situation is complicated further by non-economic factors. Therefore, it is meritorious, internationally unsurpassed and incredible to explore the advantages of concentrated efforts and institutional efficiency in fighting against poverty and build a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

  1. 2.

    Focusing on the effectiveness and efficiency of poverty alleviation with increased financial investment and partner assistance to overcome all difficulties and challenges along the way

In 2018, the Central Government allocated RMB 106.095 billion worth of special funds to poverty alleviation, and the Ministry of Finance pledged all additional funds of RMB 20 billion to support poverty alleviation in severely impoverished areas. RMB 12 billion of this was used to support the “three areas and three prefectures” in their fight against poverty. Of the special funds for poverty alleviation, RMB 48.619 billion was allocated to the three provinces and five autonomous regions which accounted for 45.83% of the country, and RMB 6.686 billion went to Tibet, which made up 13.75% of the “the three provinces and five autonomous regions” (Zhang and Yu 2018). In 2019, the special funds allocated to poverty alleviation by the Central Government were increased to RMB 126.095 billion, and the additional RMB 20 billion was mainly used in the “three areas and three prefectures” and other poverty-stricken areas. The available funds rate for “three areas and three prefectures” exceeded the 95% of the three-year plan, and the project completion rate was over 85% (2018). The special funds for poverty alleviation in “the eight provinces and autonomous regions” accounted for 47.2% of the country, 1.37% higher than in 2018.

In Inner Mongolia, livelihood expenditure accounted for 70.1% of the region’s general public budget expenditure in 2018, and financial investment for poverty alleviation at all levels amounted to RMB 14.79 billion, an increase of 21.6%. In 2019, each level of government in Inner Mongolia successively invested RMB 9.923 billion in special funds for poverty alleviation, and the central government allocated RMB 2.458 billion to this purpose, a year-on-year increase of 5%. Meanwhile, the autonomous region’s government invested RMB 4.487 billion, a year-on-year increase of 7%. Throughout the year, 107 enterprises were introduced to help 34,500 impoverished people find employment inside and outside of the region. Moreover, the central authorities directly invested RMB 208 million into poverty alleviation, attracted supporting funds amounting to RMB 566 million, and introduced 214 projects, enabling 87,000 impoverished people to increase their income (Han 2020a, 2020b).

Devoting 80.5% of its financial expenditure to peoples’ livelihood, Guangxi made improving people’s lives its top priority in 2018. To promote targeted measures for poverty alleviation, various types of funds were introduced, such as financial investment, government bonds and microcredit for poverty alleviation, totaling nearly RMB 70 billion. In 2019, Guangxi received RMB 8.4 billion worth of funds allocated by the central government for poverty alleviation, and the autonomous region’s financial expenditure on peoples’ livelihood increased by 9.6% compared with in 2018.

Guizhou allocated over RMB 17 billion of budgetary funds to poverty alleviation in 2018, 3.4% of which accounted for general public budget expenditureFootnote 6 and RMB 6 billion of which went to severely impoverished areas. For 16 poverty-stricken counties, the provincial government allocated more special funds of RMB 100 million in both 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, solid efforts were made to promote collaboration on poverty alleviation and targeted poverty alleviation between the eastern and western regions, and cooperation on poverty-alleviation with the Macao Special Administrative Region. A campaign calling on state-owned and private enterprises to assist villages was also held. With the introduction of the Poverty Alleviation Cloud platform and the Poverty Alleviation Hotline, the village revitalization strategy was launched, attracting RMB 80.2 billion of investment in the creation of a beautiful countryside.

Yunnan Province spent more than 70% of its financial expenditure on peoples’ livelihood in 2018. With central funding of RMB 779 millionFootnote 7, it strived to invest in and establish 18 poverty alleviation projects in the field of healthcare services within the central budget. Supporting measures in education, health care, and housing were promoted, and the funding standard for low-income households in rural areas was raised to no less than RMB 3500 per person per year. Collaboration between Shanghai and Yunnan, and Guangdong and Yunnan on poverty alleviation was also further promoted.

Since the implementation of the poverty alleviation strategy in Tibet in 2016, the central government has continued to increase its support for impoverished areas, with special funds allocated to poverty alleviation reaching RMB 126.1 billion in 2019, an annual increase of over RMB 20 billion for four consecutive yearsFootnote 8 (State Council Leading Group for Poverty Alleviation and Development 2019). In 2018, Tibet coordinated and integrated various types of financial funds amounting to RMB 16.73 billion related to agriculture at all levels, and a total of RMB 14.49 billion was invested in the relocation of 218,000 impoverished people (Qi 2019). According to rough statistics gained from interviews with farmers and herdsmen, over two-thirds of the actual income of Tibetan farmers and herdsmen comes from government transfer income, which constitutes a relatively high percentage of income for impoverished farmers and herdsmen.

Qinghai Province invested various special funds totalling RMB 11.44 billion in poverty alleviation in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 8.6%. Of this sum, RMB 3.428 billion was allocated by the central government, and RMB 1.452 billion came from the provincial government, up 35.2% and 38.3%, respectively (Wang 2019). In the same year, Jiangsu Province allocated annual funds of RMB 275 million to Qinghai, as part of partner assistance (Wang 2020).

Under the increased pressure of increased financial revenue, Ningxia spent 76% of its financial resources on securing and improving peoples’ livelihood in 2018. Continuous efforts have been made to enhance collaboration between Fujian and Ningxia on poverty alleviation, and with combined policies on industry, employment, finance, education and healthcare poverty alleviation, a total of RMB 10.92 billion was invested in fighting poverty. In addition, coverage of microcredit for poverty alleviation reached 85%.

Xinjiang received RMB 10.403 billion from 19 provinces and cities for the purpose of poverty alleviation in 2018. 1484 officials were assigned temporary positions and 2535 professional and technical talents were dispatched. 1716 social organizations provided assistance to 3438 impoverished villages, investing RMB 226 million. 1157 private enterprises invested a total of RMB 1.287 billion to help 237,800 people in poverty, and the China Glory Society launched a campaign to invest RMB 2.76 million in public welfare. In addition, the military assisted in the construction of 14 Bayi Aimin Schools, and invested RMB 69.78 million in construction to help 9 county hospitals in impoverished counties. 16 central authorities offered pairing assistance to 27 poverty-stricken counties, investing RMB 183 million and implementing 131 projects (Poverty Alleviation Office in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region 2019). In 2019, Xinjiang allocated RMB 37.567 billion of financial funds to poverty alleviationFootnote 9. Moreover, 19 provinces and cities designated to provide paired assistance to Xinjiang continued to focus on poverty alleviation and peoples’ livelihood, with investment of RMB 18.819 billion and implementation of 1935 projects, greatly supporting Xinjiang’s efforts regarding poverty alleviation, livelihood improvement and economic development (Guan 2020).

Many studies have shown that countries or regions with high rates of investment bridge the development gap faster (Easternlin 1981; Abramovitz 1979, 1985). Economics and public choice theory argue that there is a fundamental difference between resource allocation efficiency and redistribution. That is, the allocation of resources needed for economic growth can guide society from points inside the Pareto front to a point upon it through market allocation. In contrast, public choice theory generally believes in the Pareto optimum of the redistribution process, provided that the collective choice process is less anarchic than the market. In other words, the problems of allocating the benefits of collective action through the political process are more prominent than the problems of allocating benefits of private goods through market exchange (Mueller 2011). China’s fight against poverty consists not only of high state-led investment in underdeveloped regions, but also an extended redistributive process from an economic perspective. In the short term, rapid economic growth in impoverished regions has been driven by intensive large-scale investments, particularly in infrastructure, as demonstrated by the strong economic growth in the three provinces and five autonomous regions from 2013 to present. In the long run, this is intended to lay the foundation for future national economic development, using a redistributive approach to rapidly improve allocative efficiency. General Secretary Xi has stated that poverty alleviation is not merely about building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, but is also a necessary and inevitable requirement for China to focus on solving the problem of unbalanced and insufficient development, vigorously improve the effectiveness and efficiency of development, more effectively meet the growing economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological needs of the people, and further promote comprehensive development of all people and social progress .

  1. 3.

    Innovating the approach to eliminate poverty based on local conditions, with alignment of economic and social development with the goal of poverty alleviation, and focus on improving long-term mechanisms to fight poverty

Based on specific conditions in different regions, all levels of governments in ethnic minority areas study the alignment, opportunities, and difficulties and challenges arising from poverty alleviation during rural revitalization and coordinated regional development, and are constantly innovating ways to alleviate poverty. One example of this is the industry-led solution with policy support and medical insurance to prevent impoverished people from falling into or slipping back into poverty due to illness. By supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the “three areas and three prefectures” and impoverished ethnic minority areas, the central enterprises designated to provide pairing assistance have cultivated entrepreneurial leaders. As industrial investment funds in impoverished areas have been set up with the help of central enterprises, and investment and development companies have been established, central enterprises have assisted in the development of advantageous industries in the areas, thus improving the self-development capacity of impoverished areas. With further poverty alleviation efforts aimed at the development of industry, ecology and infrastructure, the collective economy of rural professional cooperatives has grown, and the process of specialization and modernization of agriculture and animal husbandry has been accelerated. Focusing on the goal of industry-driven poverty alleviation, rural cultural tourism has gradually become a pillar industry. In order to ensure the effectiveness of poverty alleviation and prevent impoverished people from slipping back into poverty, some ethnic minority areas have begun to conceive feasible ways in which to effectively strengthen policy support for groups with income levels slightly higher than those of documented impoverished households. Meanwhile, a targeted poverty prevention mechanism based on policy support and medical insurance has been especially established for barely out-of-poverty households and low-income households prone to falling into poverty.

Tibet has issued more than 60 regulatory documents on poverty alleviation and has fundamentally established a well-supported policy system covering different areas such as financial investment, financial support, land policy, poverty alleviation through industry development and ecological compensation. With poverty alleviation efforts directed towards industrial development, poverty alleviation strategies in areas such as relocation and education have been proactively implemented. The Tibet Office of the China Banking Regulatory Commission has introduced 19 financial policies and measures under 6 categories for poverty alleviation, forming a financial policy system with poverty alleviation efforts geared towards loan services for relocation, industrial development, and households in need that has achieved outstanding results.

Xinjiang has incorporated poverty alleviation into the framework of general requirements for work in the region to jointly promote efforts in anti-terrorism and stability maintenance, construction of the core area of the Silk Road Economic Belt, rural revitalization and tourism development. In particular, the implementation of land administration and redistribution has been a major innovation in improving income distribution and promoting social equity in the four southern Xinjiang regions’ fight against poverty. The key method is to reclaim the irregularly administered wasteland according to law. In accordance with the management methods of state-owned and collective land, the Poverty Alleviation Office leads the relevant departments of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and land to distribute recovered cultivated land between impoverished households, following the principles of territorial, quantified and need-based allocation, so as to effectively increase the substantial income of impoverished households.

In the Three-Year Action Plan for Poverty Alleviation Through Tourism in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (2018–2020), it is stated that Inner Mongolia plans to launch 200 demonstration projects for poverty alleviation through tourism within three years to promote tourism-focused poverty alleviation efforts (Liu and Zhang 2018).

Guizhou has taken the lead in implementing the incentive measure of continuing to follow poverty alleviation policies even after removal from the poverty list, exploring implementation of “three transformations” reform[5], setting up the first investment fund of RMB 300 billion for poverty alleviation, innovating the “Tangyue Experience” in poverty alleviation led by the CPC, and innovating and improving the poverty alleviation mechanism for relocation, the financing method for rural infrastructure construction, and employment training for impoverished labor forces in rural areas (Liu 2018).

Qinghai Province has developed five leading industries for poverty alleviation with local characteristics, covering yak, barley, photovoltaic technology in villages, rural tourism and ethnic handicrafts, and realized 100% coverage in collective economic support funds. Qinghai’s targeted poverty alleviation efforts have led to the establishment of a large-scale poverty alleviation network through constant improvement of organization and leadership systems, accurate identification, supervision and discipline, and assessment and evaluation, along with implementation of the village support mechanism, targeted help and pairing assistance, and mechanisms for special poverty alleviation, corporate and social assistance, and collaboration and pairing assistance between the eastern and western regions.

With the implementation of specialty industry upgrading in poor areas, and the introduction of industrial projects, technical training, microcredit, assistance measures and agricultural insurance for impoverished households, as well as the development of Chinese herbal medicine, minor grain crops, rural e-commerce and rural tourism, Ningxia has established a new pattern of poverty alleviation in which every village is home to an industry in order to eliminate poverty, and in which every household has options for increasing their income.

In its fight against poverty, Yunnan has endeavored to become China’s most beautiful province, making an all-out effort to create a pleasant environment with clear air, clean water, and green lands. In addition, it has constructed facilities for centralized treatment of sewage from industrial parks at the provincial level and above, and has delineated forbidden and restricted areas for the breeding of livestock within the province.

Guangxi has achieved 100% coverage of poverty alleviation through industrial development for poor households with development capabilities, and has promoted innovative models, such as selling cattle to households on credit and buying them back at market price once they are ready for slaughter, livestock breeding with different parties working in coordination, and encouraging workshops to employ local workers. Meanwhile, the development of specialty industries has been largely driven by increasing the number and scale of leading enterprises, standardizing and promoting farmers’ cooperatives, and cultivating entrepreneurial leaders in impoverished villages. Guangxi has also developed a unified and dynamically managed big data platform for the purpose of poverty alleviation, and established the business management mechanism of utilizing data in analysis, decision-making, management, and innovation.Footnote 10

Economic development and growth are mainly derived from production factors such as land, capital, labor, and technology. In particular, technological development is a key driver of economic growth and a necessary concomitant leading to the growth of new physical investment and human capital investment (Nelson 2001). Today’s innovation system is inseparable from the strong competition driven by continuously evolving technology, and the support of a well-developed education and training system, as well as high investment in enterprises and equipment. The economy of ethnic minority areas, especially in impoverished ethnic regions and the “three areas and three prefectures”, is lagging behind the rest of the country, and the economic development gap with the developed eastern regions, especially in terms of technological progress, cannot be narrowed in the short term. Most innovative poverty alleviation models focus on rapid improvement of the factors of capital, technology and labor, and intensive external intervention to effectively promote transformation of the industrial structures in poor ethnic regions and the “three areas and three prefectures” in the short term, and accelerate agricultural modernization and the development of agricultural industries using local strength. In addition, the increase in human capital as a result of accelerated urbanization and improved medical and social security not only lays the foundation and establishes potential for future economic development in impoverished ethnic minority areas and “three areas and three prefectures”, but in the long term and on a national scale, also renders inclusive and shared development more sustainable and effective as the development gap between regions is gradually narrowed and a wider range of regions and populations begin to engage in market competition.

  1. 4.

    Urging grassroots officials to engage in poverty alleviation, and encouraging the CPC, government departments, the military, enterprises and public institutions at all levels to provide targeted and pairing assistance to poor regions, with all parties working in coordination to fight poverty

At the National Conference on Development-driven Poverty Alleviation, General Secretary Xi Jinping stated that the focus on encouraging grassroots officials to promote poverty alleviation was an important experience for poverty-stricken areas in eliminating poverty and becoming more well off. In ethnic minority areas, especially the “three areas and three prefectures”, grassroots officials have made joint efforts in poverty alleviation through industrial development, relocation, employment, education and healthcare. Under the leadership of the CPC and with the support of the grassroots officials, the poverty alleviation campaign takes the party’s political and organizational advantages and leverages its close relations with the people to establish a poverty alleviation network whereby all parties work together to fight poverty (Yang 2018). This has been demonstrated in ethnic minority areas, especially in the “three areas and three prefectures”, where an innovative approach has been developed to continuously extend the coverage of party organizations and tasks mainly by setting up party organizations in poverty-stricken areas, based on industrial chains, cooperatives, collective economic organizations, and production groups (Qian 2018). All state-level departments and institutions, people’s organizations, institutions managed in accordance with civil service law, key large state-owned enterprises, state-controlled financial institutions, key national scientific research institutes, and military and armed police forces have carried out targeted assistance to alleviate poverty. They have focused on integrating various types of poverty alleviation resources into their efforts in relocation, education, healthcare, and infrastructure construction in impoverished counties. In addition, government officials have been dispatched to villages to work at the front line of poverty alleviation. In this way, poverty alleviation-related policies, decision-making, and measures stipulated by the Party Central Committee, the State Council, the provincial party committee, and the provincial government can be effectively communicated and implemented, making it possible to achieve remarkable results in terms of industrial development, project management, supervision of poverty alleviation funds, and cultivation of grassroots officials. Intensive efforts on poverty alleviation through targeted measures, dispatch of officials, pairing assistance, education, and consumption have not only boosted the confidence of impoverished areas and poor households in eliminating poverty, but their skills and overall capabilities have also been improved with various types of training. Moreover, with the accumulation of and increase in human capital, the ability of the people to lift themselves out of poverty and their future adaptability to social development have been strengthened.

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