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Successful cooperation

by Alexandra Janda

In brief

Eco-friendly energy supply for rural areas is a forte of German agencies.

Eco-friendly energy supply for rural areas is a forte of German agencies.

China holds the world record in terms of poverty reduction – and German de­velopment cooperation has contributed to that success. Beijing’s strategy is to experiment in cooperation with various partners and then to replicate successful measures elsewhere.

China used the Olympic Games to demonstrate its new prosperity. Indeed, it is one of the few countries that have achieved the first UN Millennium Development Goal (halving the number of people suffering from hunger and living in extreme poverty). Between 1980 and 2004, the percentage of Chinese classed as extremely poor – in the sense of having to live on less than a dollar a day – dropped from 60 % to 10 %. Nowhere else was poverty reduced at such a rate.

Some of the credit is due to German development cooperation, says Ylva Monschein of Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University in a recent study. On behalf of Germany’s Development Ministry, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), a government agency, has spent more than 20 years cooperating with Chinese partners in the field of poverty reduction, focussing in particular on peripheral communities. After all, 80 % of the people, including the vast majority of the poor and a host of different ethnic groups, live in rural areas.

China was first officially classified as a developing country in 1979, and took time for the People’s Republic’s policy on poverty to evolve. According to Monschein, coherent strategies were being implemented by 1986. At that time, cooperation with GTZ started. GTZ emphasises grassroots work; and Monschein underlines GTZ’s detailed dialogue with other donor agencies, the local communities and local experts.

The Chinese adhere to the principle “cross the river by feeling for stones”. Monschein says the Chinese tradition of replication is a fundamental principle. Successful projects are multiplied: what works in one district is transposed to another, then another, and in the end entire provinces may be covered.

According to Monschein, this bottom-up method is favoured by both government and communities. One example she likes to point out is the creation of German-style regional water authorities. Municipal go­vernments form such bodies to jointly secure supply and monitor the quality of drinking water. The first such authorities relied on GTZ support staff; today, local people do all the work.

China’s central government coope­­­­ra­tes with donor agencies from various countries, testing what models work where. The government assesses results and reviews strategic planning in the light of such data.

When Monschein presented her findings at GTZ, Solveig Buhl of KfW Entwicklungsbank, Germany’s international-development bank, pointed out that pro-poor growth remains an important goal in China because of the massive and growing division between the well-off and the poor. KfW too is active in China on behalf of BMZ, helping to bring about progress in rural areas. In particular, areas settled by ethnic minorities in western Provinces are of concern.

In the beginning of Sino-German development cooperation, the focus was on issues such as poverty reduction and vocational training. Today, German government agencies with assignments in China emphasise global public goods in the context of environmental protection and business sustainability. They thus also pay attention to matters of law and judiciary, for instance, or the promotion of renewable energy sources.

Alexandra Janda