On January 19, China’s state-run CGTN conducted interviews with three individuals on the streets of New York City.
CGTN asked loaded questions, including what the interviewees felt about “China’s efforts to make the economic development pie bigger so that it can be shared by all people to achieve common prosperity.”
It is not clear from the video if the interviewees knew that “common prosperity” refers to a specific policy President Xi Jinping recently devised to narrow the wealth gap.
The replies, one of which is summarized in the video title, “U.S. residents: China is doing a great job in equitable distribution,” were unsurprisingly positive.
“I think that China is doing a great job at being kind of one of the pioneers in common health and common wealth and equitable distribution and just like promoting overall wellness. So, I think they’re doing a great job,” one person responded.
Although the three respondents are fully entitled to their opinions, CGTN, in an apparent attempt to tout China’s “equitable distribution,” misleadingly implies that their flattering views are held by “U.S. residents” more broadly.
In fact, data shows wealth inequality has skyrocketed in China and that a majority of U.S. residents view China negatively. It is far too early to say whether Xi’s concept of shared prosperity, announced in August 2021, will bear fruit.
Statistics show China has made great strides in reducing poverty, but in terms of income inequality, China ranks with the United States as among the world’s worst.
According to the 2022 World Inequality Report by the World Inequality Lab at the Paris School of Economics, the top 10 percent of China’s population, on average, earns 14 times more than the bottom 50 percent.
This income gap “is higher than the inequalities observed in Europe, but below that of the U.S. and India,” the report found.
The report found that China’s top 10 percent own nearly 70 percent of the national wealth. That is a higher level of wealth inequality than in India, “and comparable with inequality levels in the U.S. (71 percent),” the report found.
It added that wealth inequality has been rising since the 1990s.
According to the German market and consumer data company Statista, China reached a score of 0.465 on the Gini Index in 2019. The Gini Index or Gini coefficient shows the level of inequality in wealth or income distribution. A score of 0 means absolute equality, while a score of one means absolute inequality.
For comparison, the United Nations sets a Gini score of 0.4 as the warning level for potential social and political unrest, putting China above the mark.
Statistica noted that China’s situation has slightly improved since 2008, “when the Gini coefficient had reached the highest value of recent times.”
This prompted President Xi’s appeal to “common prosperity,” which he called “an essential requirement of socialism as well as an important feature of Chinese modernization.”
A document produced in conjunction with the policy addressed the need “to increase the income of the low-income group and expand the middle-income group.” The document also said it was necessary to correctly handle “the relationship between efficiency and fairness” in order to “further promote common prosperity.”
According to the Bank of Korea (BOK), that may be easier said than done.
While recognizing the “urgent need” to rectify the “serious income inequality within the Chinese economy,” the BOK warned “redistribution policies will not be easy to institute smoothly,” Korea’s independent Hankyoreh newspaper reported.
The BOK reported that other countries have outpaced China on measures of redistribution.
“Out of all Chinese government expenditures in 2018, the percentage of health care and social welfare expenses was only 35 percent, much lower than that of the US (45 percent), Germany (60 percent), and Japan (62 percent),” the BOK said.
The bank said China’s economic growth is projected to drop to 5 percent in 2022 from 8.1 percent, complicating efforts to “prioritize redistribution over growth.”
Michael Hirson and Neil Thomas, analysts with the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, wrote that apart from its domestic bent, “common prosperity” could also “play a significant role in Chinese foreign policy.”
They cited Xie Fuzhan, president and party secretary of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who wrote in October that common prosperity “will completely rewrite the map of high-income countries in human society.” That, Xie said, will provide other developing countries “a completely new choice” in achieving Chinese-inspired human development and modernization.
Based on that language, Hirson and Thomas said that common prosperity could occupy “a key position” in China’s “competition with the West for ideological influence in global governance and international affairs.”
Surveys by the Pew Research Center found that people in the United States and other developed countries have a largely unfavorable view of China.
According to a Pew survey published in March 2021, the number of Americans expressing cold feelings about China substantially increased, from 46 percent in 2018 to 67 percent in 2021.
Some 70 percent of Americans said the United States should prioritize human rights promotion in China over economic relations with China, “even if it potentially harms economic relations with China.”
Likewise, a Pew survey released in June 2021 found unfavorable views of China had reached “near historic highs” in most of the 17 countries with advanced economies in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Pew found that in most of the countries with advanced economies surveyed, a majority (or wide majority) of respondents said it was more important to have strong economic ties with the United States than with China.
A major sticking point was China’s treatment of its own citizens.
“In each of the 17 advanced economies surveyed, a majority – and in many cases a large majority – agrees that the government of China does not respect the personal freedoms of its people,” Pew wrote.
“The sense that China does not respect the personal freedoms of its people is also at or near historic highs in most publics surveyed.”