By Liu Yushu & Liu Mingyang Source:Beijing Review Published: 2020-08-10
The year 2020 is crucial for China to achieve the twin goals of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eliminating absolute poverty. Though hit by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the country is expected to complete its poverty alleviation plan on schedule, thanks in part to digital technology. The government encourages people to adapt to digital living and use the Internet to find opportunities and suitable ways to achieve prosperity.
According to the China Internet Development Report 2020, by the end of 2019, the number of mobile Internet users in China had reached 1.31 billion, accounting for 32.17 percent of the total in the world. This means that more than 94 percent of people in China can use the Internet anytime and anywhere. In May, China built the world's highest 5G base station at an altitude of 6,500 meters above sea level on the northern slope of Mount Qomolangma, demonstrating the government's determination to give everyone in the country access to high-speed Internet.
With the rapid growth of the Internet, the government is promoting poverty alleviation through education, aiming to change the mindset of people in poverty-stricken areas, elicit their creativity, and narrow the information gap between poor and developed areas.
Zijin was one of the poorest counties in Guangdong Province in the south due to its unfavorable mountainous conditions. A shortage of teaching resources made it difficult for local children to receive good education. However, in recent years, the local government has cooperated with Internet companies to deliver online courses, and used artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled educational robots to interact with students. The digital tools have broken geographical barriers and given children in remote areas opportunities to compete with their peers in cities.
The government has also encouraged enterprises to participate in poverty alleviation through improving education facilities. Over the past three years, Ping An Insurance has established 1,054 smart primary schools, and supported the construction of 120 laboratories on campus and the training of 13,987 village primary school teachers, benefiting more than 300,000 poor students.
In addition to online education, the government has strengthened the construction of digital infrastructure to boost intelligent production and help people in poverty-stricken areas adapt to economic transformation and social development. Enhancing digital infrastructure is vital for bridging the digital divide.
Recently, seven provincial-level administrative regions have launched key new infrastructure projects with a combined investment of 25 trillion yuan ($3.58 trillion). The investment is mainly intended for industries such as transportation, environmental protection, new energy and 5G for smart development.
Chongqing, a municipality in southwest China, has invested heavily in the construction of new infrastructure including 5G network, data center, AI and industrial Internet. It had built more than 50,000 mobile base stations in rural areas by February, realizing the full coverage of 4G network and the availability of 5G service in some areas.
The city is also integrating 5G with agriculture to improve production efficiency and use information technology to ensure greater market access for farm products from poor areas. The mountainous topography makes it difficult for local farmers to use large agricultural machinery. However, 5G has helped some poor areas to create a new model of smart agriculture. For instance, 5G-connected unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used to prevent and control plant diseases and pests, greatly improving agricultural productivity. According to the local media, one UAV can monitor 20 to 30 hectares of field daily, transmitting real-time data on plant growth.
Digital technology has been used not only to improve agricultural machinery but also services. In the central province of Henan, where 5.82 million rural people moved out of poverty from 2013 to 2019, modern information technology is helping create a favorable environment for businesses.
Changyuan in Henan is a leading production base of medical supplies, especially masks. The industry provides employment to many poor people. When masks were in short supply earlier this year, the local government rigorously boosted production and regulated pricing with the help of industrial big data. Big data also helped to prevent blind expansion of the mask industry during the epidemic. The government encourages businesses to build a good brand recognition and establish stable industrial chains.
The improved business environment has attracted outstanding enterprises from all over the world to build factories in Henan, providing a sustained impetus for poverty alleviation and prosperity.
The development of e-commerce has contributed significantly to poverty alleviation. Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) show in 2019, online retail sales of products from poverty-stricken counties reached 239.2 billion yuan ($34.3 billion), a year-on-year increase of 33 percent, providing jobs and income for 5 million farmers.
The government has made various efforts to help poverty-stricken regions develop the digital economy. E-commerce infrastructure has been improved significantly.
By the end of June, all townships and administrative villages with suitable conditions had gained access to paved roads, the proportion of poor villages with optical fiber had increased from less than 70 percent in 2017 to 98 percent, and 96.6 percent of townships had been covered by express delivery service. All poverty-stricken counties have set up e-commerce service centers. E-commerce has created markets for agricultural products from remote places.
The development of e-commerce also gives incentives to poor areas to produce specialty products. Some specialty products such as edible fungus of Zhashui County in Shaanxi Province in the northwest, apples of Lixian County in Gansu Province in the northwest and honey of Ximeng Wa Autonomous County in Yunnan Province in the southwest have become bestsellers on e-commerce platforms.
The government has also provided e-commerce training for people in poverty-stricken regions, especially women. As of June, some 1.22 million women had participated in such training. In addition, Internet companies are encouraged to partner with poor regions to promote e-commerce. Data from Alibaba Group shows that its e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall had more than 1.2 million vendors from poverty-stricken counties by June.
After the onset of COVID-19, more farmers in poor areas turned to digital technology to sell their products. Chongqing used the agricultural big data platform to release information about agricultural products whose sales were hindered by the epidemic, thus facilitating their sales.
Live-streaming has become an effective marketing approach. MOFCOM data shows that the first half of this year saw more than 10 million live e-commerce shows, which were viewed more than 50 billion times. Over 400,000 live-streamers promoted more than 20 million items.
More and more officials have participated in live-streaming marketing campaigns. For example, Wang Shuai, Vice Mayor of Shanghe County, Shandong Province in the east, presented local specialty roast chicken through live-streaming, attracting a large number of buyers online.
Liu Yushu is director of Macro Research Department, Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY), and Liu Mingyang is an official in Xinxiang, Henan Province.