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Ethnic minorities in some areas of troubled Xinjiang and in remote Tibet continue to be the most impoverished in China even as 10 million people were expected to be lifted above the poverty line in the rest of the country in 2019, a year-end government report says.

At the end of 2018, China had 16.6 million rural poor (across the country) who were living on less than 2300 yuan (approximately Rs 23000) annually; as many as 400 counties were listed as impoverished.

Those numbers have been reduced significantly, according to Liu Yongfu, China’s top poverty relief official from State Council’s (China’s cabinet) leading group office of poverty alleviation and development said.

“More than 10 million people are expected to be lifted from poverty this year, and some 340 counties will no longer be labeled as impoverished,” Liu was quoted by state-controlled China Daily newspaper as saying during the release of the report.

Liu said access to education, healthcare, secure housing, and tap water have been “generally ensured nationwide”.

More needs to be done in specific areas of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which has been under international scrutiny because of the internment of Muslim minorities in restricted camps or, what Beijing insists, are vocational training institutes.

“The remaining impoverished rural Chinese are mainly from a mosaic of ethnic communities scattered across western regions: the Tibet autonomous region, as well as four provinces where ethnic Tibetan people live, the southern part of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region and three prefectures in Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces,” Liu said.

“Officials commonly refer to these regions as the Three Areas and Three Prefectures, the deeply impoverished areas”.

Progress has also been made in these regions, Liu said.

The number of registered poor in the regions has fallen from 1.72 million last year to 430,000 by the end of this year.

“The overall poverty rate in the Three Areas and Three Prefectures plummeted to 2 percent, from above 8 percent a year earlier. That was faster than the average poverty reduction rate in the western regions as a whole,” Liu added.

According to official estimates, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country has lifted over 800 million people out of poverty, representing over 70 percent of global poverty reduction.

China’s decades-long poverty reduction programmes have been praised but official estimates of the number of poor have also been questioned.

In August, a top UN official said that more than 200 million people in China live on less than $5 a day (roughly 35 yuan or Rs 350), which indicated that the Chinese poverty line marker of $1.90 per day did not reveal the actual number of the poor in the country.

Many of those in the 200 million are part of the country’s vast rural economy or work in informal sectors, Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the Globalisation and Development Strategies Division in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, had told the state-controlled China Radio International (CRI).

“China has 200 million people living on less than $5 a day, a large rural population, and many people working in the informal economy,” Wright was quoted as saying.