China begins plan to relocate millions of people
How China goes about it will speak volumes about the country's future.
China wants to reduce poverty by moving millions of people from underdeveloped regions into developed regions, a move that strikes many observers as problematic.
The plan calls for 2 million people to be relocated this year and 10 million by 2020.
Ultimately, the mass migration will improve access to better social services, including schools and hospitals, for the country’s poorest citizens. The destinations will also have higher quality roads and water supplies, according to the government.
Few details have been made available on how this mass relocation will be implemented and whether or not those being displaced will be compensated for their land, properties, livelihoods and pasts.
It’s hard to imagine that millions of people will be calm about being uprooted from their homes and shipped to an unfamiliar place.
Other questions include: where, exactly, will these people live? How will they be integrated into their new communities? Will jobs and adequate welfare be provided?
There’s also the question of what will be done with the land that is being emptied of inhabitants.
China has a history of uprooting large swaths of its population for infrastructure projects. It’s plausible that the focus on poverty could be a way to conceal the deeper goal of developing land and extracting resources.
Regardless of the true motive, China does have a phenomenal record when it comes to ending poverty.
Over the past several decades, the country has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and has generated tremendous prosperity.
What was once one of the poorest countries in the world, is now the richest country by some measures.
Of course, this move towards wealth has had consequences. The environment, for instance, has been degraded because of unfettered industrial activity.
Recently, it was revealed that more than 80% of wells in rural China were carrying contaminated water that was unsuitable for human use.
There’s also the issue of inequality. While China has lifted people out of poverty, the country’s class system has stiffened and corruption abounds.
The country’s elite have fabulous sums of money and access to power, whereas the opportunity of the rest of the population is limited.
And it’s precisely the developed regions--the cities--where inequality is most luridly displayed.
The cities are where billionaires cruise from air-purified building to air-purified building in their sleek Rolls-Royces, while the poor live crammed in the dingy rooms of ramshackle buildings.
Plus, China is struggling with an economic slowdown that has further squeezed the opportunities available to the poor and middle classes.
It’s possible that the massive relocation will only exacerbate the disparities seen in the city without doing anything to meaningfully address poverty.
It’s also possible that the government will use its might to meaningfully improve quality of life for ordinary people.
Either path speaks volumes about the country’s future.