With the National People’s Congress (NPC) underway, China’s push to eradicate extreme poverty by 2022 recently received the financial greenlight for one of its most striking projects to date – the planned Giant Panda National Park in the southwest. The Bank of China and Sichuan province’s Department of Forestry inked an agreement for a 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) five-year funding package, which will be directed towards building up the infrastructure required for the park’s development as well as a host of poverty relief programs in the region.[1]

Creating a more fluid natural habitat for the endangered species

Straddling the neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu, the vast conservation park will cover a staggering 27,100 square kilometers – more than three times the size of America’s Yellowstone National Park. The project aims to facilitate greater movement by pandas living in isolated parts of the mountainous region by providing them with an interconnected habitat and thereby help encourage more breeding among the endangered species.

Breathing fresh life to the local economy through tourism

According to local authorities in Sichuan, panda-related tourism has boomed in recent years, and the new park will provide a considerable, fresh boost to the local economy by encouraging even more tourists to visit one of the most remote parts of China’s hinterland. The project is ultimately expected to play a significant role in helping to uplift the 170,000 residents living in its proposed territory out of poverty.

Waging the critical national battle of poverty alleviation

The drive to stamp out indigence once-and-for-all was one of the hallmarks of President Xi’s first term in office. And his administration’s annual government work report delivered at this year’s NPC identified poverty alleviation as one of the “three critical battles” that China must win in the next few years, signaling that such efforts only look set to intensify. While on a visit to Sichuan province last month, the president vowed to “exorcise the evil of poverty,” declaring that no one should be left behind in the push to transform China into a “moderately prosperous society” by 2022.[2]

Although colossal in scale, the new panda park will still occupy but a small niche in what Chinese state-run media have billed as the “largest poverty alleviation campaign in history.”[3] However, it will provide a unique case study of how China’s poverty relief strategy is increasingly harnessing the growth engines of its new economy, such as tourism, in harmony with ecological conservation efforts. As the Giant Panda National Park takes shape in the coming years, China’s beloved national treasure may well prove to be one of the sweetest tonics for empowering people from a secluded region to fully share in the benefits of the country’s extraordinary growth story.

Heralding the dawn of “new era” CSR programs

And for companies, the new park offers a glimpse of what one of the first major government-led projects aimed at bettering people’s lives will look like in the “new era.” With poverty alleviation now headlining the national agenda, executives should be cognizant that local officials’ advancement through the ranks of the Party-state apparatus will progressively hinge on their performances related to improving social welfare. All firms would be well-advised to carefully align their CSR programs with their government stakeholders’ top priorities and help those authorities meet their targets – and of course ensure that their communications strategies clearly articulate how their corporate contributions are forming small but worthy bricks in the building of the new China.

[1] “Chinese bank to fund poverty alleviation in giant panda national park,” Xinhua News Agency, 06 March 2018.

[2] “Xi vows to ‘exorcise evil of poverty,’” Xinhua News Agency, 12 February 2018.

[3] “China continues largest poverty alleviation campaign in history,” Xinhua News Agency, 05 March 2018.

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