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Poverty alleviation cooperation is a pillar of China-ASEAN relations

Since the establishment of dialogue relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1991, bilateral cooperation in poverty reduction has made remarkable progress.

China-ASEAN cooperation in poverty alleviation has witnessed the continuous efforts of both sides over the past 30 years. Since 2003, China and ASEAN have formulated a series of cooperation plans on poverty reduction, included in the Joint Declaration on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2005-10) and plans of action from 2005 to today. These plans provided goals and guidance for practical cooperative efforts. In addition, since 2007, the ASEAN-China Forum on Social Development and Poverty Reduction has become an annual dialogue between the two parties in which they share their experiences in poverty reduction. The ASEAN+3 Village Leaders Exchange Program was launched in 2013, complemented by various training and pilot programs to encourage exchanges and cooperation on poverty reduction at the grassroots level. These initiatives have improved the living conditions of local residents, and poverty rates in the cooperation regions have steadily declined.

These achievements are based on the gradual establishment of three-pillar driving forces – the deepening of cooperation at the state, market and social levels. At the beginning, China-ASEAN cooperation in poverty alleviation was mainly conducted at the state level. State action plans have been drawn up and principles and guidelines for cooperative practice have been provided by the government. The ASEAN-China Forum on Social Development and Poverty Alleviation was also based on cooperation between governments and between high-level officials, eminent scholars and representatives of international organizations.

As China and ASEAN have strengthened their trade and economic ties, the market has played an increasingly important role in poverty reduction. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for years, with total two-way merchandise trade volume exceeding $878.2 billion in 2021. China’s direct investment in ASEAN has also grown rapidly. , reaching $14.35 billion in 2021 and they have accumulated to $300 billion bilaterally. over the past 30 years. Trade and investment have accelerated local development and helped reduce poverty. Investment in infrastructure has contributed significantly to economic development, job creation and stability of energy supply, generating additional sources of income and improving the quality of life of the poor. Additionally, cooperation in agricultural technology has dramatically increased productivity, helping to alleviate food shortages.

As China and ASEAN deepen their cooperation in poverty alleviation, communication at the social level is crucial. Since 2013, village leaders from China, South Korea, Japan and ASEAN have taken part in regular exchanges across ASEAN+3 countries, visiting fields and staying for weeks to learn local life and exchange in depth. At the same time, hundreds of training programs have been organized to present experiences, successful cases and best practices. Pilot programs have been launched in ASEAN members to build infrastructure, provide public services, train skills for the workforce and upgrade technologies in poverty-stricken areas. Growing cooperation at the social level allows China to learn more about local needs and adopt more effective approaches to help alleviate poverty in ASEAN members, which makes cooperation more substantial.

Despite this impressive progress, China-ASEAN cooperation in poverty reduction faces multiple challenges. Although an encouraging sign is that an increasing number of countries have joined in poverty reduction cooperation in this region, most Japanese and American programs tend to attach political conditions and even set standards to deliberately exclude China from participating in certain cooperation initiatives. Poverty reduction needs more cooperation from the international community, but it is still very likely that more poverty reduction projects in this region will become politicized.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic and the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have deepened the poverty of ASEAN members. In 2021, 4.7 million people in the region were pushed into extreme poverty and 9.3 million jobs were lost. The Ukraine crisis has severed supply chains for many commodities, causing shortages of food, fertilizers and industrial raw materials. This will make it more difficult to achieve poverty reduction goals.

To face these challenges, in the future, China-ASEAN cooperation on poverty alleviation could take the following measures.

First, while maintaining the important roles played by the state and the market, China could further expand the role of social engagement and increase grassroots participation. This should include strengthening cooperation in the fields of education, culture and media, encouraging exchanges between think tanks, local governments and young people, creating projects for the education of children , water sanitation, maternal and child nutrition, access to health care, housing and agriculture as models of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation and help build resilience , sustainability and inclusiveness of ASEAN societies.

Second, China can increase the engagement of social groups and multilateral organizations. Multilateral organizations have accumulated valuable knowledge and experience on poverty reduction and are able to provide useful advice and a network to solve problems tailored to local needs. In addition, social groups could meet the varied needs of different interest groups. Therefore, they should be more involved in future cooperative efforts in poverty reduction.

Third, China can strive to intensify dialogue with other countries, building bridges for trilateral or multilateral cooperation. Despite the daunting challenges, China stands ready to collaborate with other nations, especially Asian countries like Japan and South Korea, to work on the same mission of poverty reduction in ASEAN. These efforts would not only benefit ASEAN, but also help reduce regional tensions and maintain peace and prosperity in Southeast Asia.

Fourth, China can provide a systematic evaluation system. These include ex ante surveys, process monitoring, plan adjustment and ex post evaluations. In addition, the system should also contain comprehensive multidimensional indicators, including those on economic development, social progress, environment and ecological protection, making poverty reduction programs more effective and sustainable.

Zhai Kun is a professor at the School of International Studies and deputy director of the Institute of Area Studies at Peking University. Ma Tianyue is an associate researcher at the China Center for International Development Knowledge. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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