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Poverty Reduction, Cultural Narrative, and the Realization of Development Rights in South-South Cooperation
July 13,2018   By:CSHRS

Poverty Reduction, Cultural Narrative, and the Realization of Development Rights in South-South Cooperation

BU Wei*

Abstract: The development of any country or society requires a cultural context. A cultural narrative influence the process of development by shaping people's views and actions, and thus policy. This paper first discusses the importance of cultural narratives, and then analyzes the different cultural narratives on poverty reduction, development, right to development, and South-South Cooperation. It illustrates how cultural narratives significantly influence social justice development and reforms.

Keywords: cultural narrative ♦ poverty reduction♦ South-South Cooperation♦development rights

Ⅰ. Significance of Cultural Narratives

Cultural narratives are facts and stories given significance within a social context. A cultural narrative gives members of a society a common touchstone. But why should they be mentioned in a paper on development and development rights? And how do cultural narratives relate to the realization of development rights in South-South cooperation?

Cultural narratives are of vital importance in understanding the global development process, South-South Cooperation, and China. The importance of cultural narratives and their connections to economic, political, and social change have been revealed in different development practices. For example, a comparison between the worldwide efforts of musicians in 1985 and 2005 to “save Africa” provides the means to see the process in which two distinctly different cultural narrative for change created for the same issue of famine in Africa, represented two different approaches to resolve the similar crises.

In 1984, a piece of news of BBC on famine in Africa aroused the emotion of the British people. As a result, rock singers Phil Collins and Bob Geldof launched Band Aid campaign during which the single “Do They Know It's Christmas?” sold 3.2 million copies to raise money for supporting Africa. In 1985, 45 popular singers recorded the single We Are the World and performed at a “Live Aid” concert at the proposal of American singer Harry Belafonte. The concert was broadcast live by seven satellites and had a worldwide audience of about 1.5 billion people with many of them making donations. Inspired by this, musicians in China also created a single “Let the World be Filled with Love” in 1986. The mainstream narrative was: We are all one family, so we should not allow anyone to suffer from hunger. As a result, we should help them to wipe the tears from their eyes. Make a donation now. Thus, it was in essence a charity campaign. Although sustaining the campaign was beyond the musicians, their efforts helped generate public awareness of the famine in Ethiopia and public sympathy that was translated into action.1 The Band Aid project demonstrated a high degree of do-ityourself organization and media savvy, but essentially it represented political naivety and moral superiority.

Facing the same situation of a famine in Africa in July 2005, America Online and other media, musicians, NGOs, and enterprises jointly launched the Live 8 concert during the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. The purpose was to exert pressure on the member countries of G8 (which comprised the seven most highly industrialized countries and Russia) to increase their assistance to Africa and promote fair trade. It was a charity performance for poverty eradication and debt exemption in African countries. The concerts held on the same day in 10 cities around the world were broadcast live on TV, radio, and the internet reaching an audience of 5.5 billion. On that day, 26.4 million supporting short messages were received. The mainstream narrative was no longer “charity” but the reason for lasting poverty in Africa in 20 years. The objective of the concerts was no longer to encourage public donations but to demand developed countries to exempt the debts of African countries and adopt fair trade to assist Africa. The slogan was “We need fairness, not charity” and “Make poverty history.” As a result, the leaders attending the G8 summit made the promise to substantially increase assistance to Africa on the first day.2 Here, we can see two different kinds of cultural narratives, namely a call for charity and the demand for fairness. The narratives are also different as the former accepts the global political and economic order as reasonable, but call on those who are better off to help the poor in Africa through charity, while the latter questioned the causes behind the poverty in Africa and tried to promote fairness through the exemption of debts and fair trade.

Such cultural narratives that can influence social change can be found in the development process of different societies and countries. For example, success can be achieved through personal efforts and individual determination, so poverty means insufficient efforts; the government should not intervene in the economy because the disadvantages outweigh the advantages; fairness will limit efficiency; equality is the redistribution of wealth, so a “bigger cake” should be made; and “payment for workers will reduce employment,” and so on. (In fact, empirical data shows that increasing disposable incomes increases consumption and thus improves the employment rate). In development assistance, the less-developed countries and their people are often considered as undeveloped, backward, and non-Western. It seems that modernization is equivalent to development, which in this way is considered as the correct culture that forms a kind of rational knowledge and power system.3 According to the criticism of modernization, “the theory merely generalized the Third World countries with different experiences with the term ‘traditional society' to distinguish them from modern society represented by the United States,”4 so the development of the Global South countries should follow the development path of Western developed countries. A.G. Frank has pointed out that modern theorists try to use the term “traditional” to simply deny the history of all the Global South countries, yet one fact is ignored: It is exploitation by the developed countries that results in the economic backwardness of less-developed countries.5 Dependency theory reveals how the developing countries are included into the expanding urban-industrial capitalist system step by step and how the developed countries reconstruct the relationship with developing countries on the basis of their own development agenda. At the present stage, peripheral capitalism is nothing but the expression of the asymmetry between the central developed countries and the peripheral developing countries,6 which reveals their unequal political, economic, and cultural relations. In these unequal relations, people in the Global South are reduced to traditionalists to be looked down upon before benefiting from development. If their countries cannot be modernized, they can only play the role of “servant or taxpayer.”7In the global political and economic order, they are in the most disadvantageous position.

Within the framework of dependency theory, the cultural narrative is in fact the issue of cultural imperialism. It is noted that cultural narrative has become one of the reasons for the inequality and is influencing social justice, inclusion, and integration.

Ⅱ. Cultural Narrative on Poverty Reduction, Development and South-South Cooperation

A. About poverty reduction

Poverty eradication has always been a central issue of development. Since 2013, there have been a large number of reports on “targeted poverty alleviation”. On one hand,the social visibility of poverty eradication has been raised. The important issues of social development in China have been widely concerned by setting agenda; on the other hand, most of the reports focus on figures relevant to economic growth, such as the growth of income, the number of labor transferred, the number of people migrated out of a poverty-stricken region, the rate of reconstruction of dilapidated buildings, etc. Other reports concentrate on the “role of support” in poverty alleviation. That is, the work of poverty alleviation mainly focuses on how mainstream society offers support to the poor and its forms a cultural narrative of doing “public welfare” or “charity”. Such a narrative may sometimes neglect the core groups in the poverty alleviation movement: the destitute households, who are usually unclear or may be passive in the news. In such narratives, it is sometimes difficult to see poverty through their eyes.

It should be noted that poverty eradication is to realize the human rights of every individual. On September 26, 2015, President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech entitled “Seek Common and Sustainable Development and Forge A Partnership of Win-win Cooperation” at the UN Sustainable Development Summit at the UN headquarters in New York, in which pointed out that “for people around the world, development is what they place their survival and hopes on and symbolizes dignity and rights.” On October 16, 2015, in the keynote speech of 2015 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum, President Xi Jinping stressed that eradication of poverty is “the basic right of the people of all nations in the pursuit of happiness” and announced that “a comprehensive well-off society is for all the Chinese people, with no one left behind. In the next five years, we will lift over 70 million poor people who are measured under the existing standard in China out of poverty. This is an important step for China to implement the development agenda after 2015”. Since then, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed in many inspection tours and speeches that “we will never leave behind a poor area or poor people.” Thus it can be seen that “people-oriented” concept, especially the poor people oriented concept, has become a guiding ideology at the national level.

In fact, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized the “people-oriented” development concept in series of speeches on development. The key factor in people-oriented development is to pay more attention to ordinary people and vulnerable groups in society who are in a difficult situation and help them participate in development under certain social conditions. In his keynote speech. “2015 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum”, President Xi stressed that, “We adhere to the development-oriented guideline in poverty alleviation and take development as the fundamental approach to tackle poverty. We must help the poor as well as rebuild their aspirations, mobilize their enthusiasm, enhance their development capabilities, and let them play their principal role.” Poverty therefore refers not only to the lack of funds. Long-term poverty also means the shortage of basic hygiene, medical care, education and participation in political life, which leads to fear and despair about the future and result in people's helplessness in changing their situation. As a result, poverty alleviation should be closely connected with building the aspirations of people living in poverty, making them the mainstay of poverty eradication efforts and the driving force for local development. For rural children and adolescents, President Xi Jinping also highlighted the importance of elementary education, saying, “We should help the poor cultivate wisdom” and provide them with a fair starting point. In addition, if we attach importance to people in poverty reduction, we will apply the concept of multidimensional poverty to redefine the impact of poverty on them. Poverty refers not only to the lack of disposable income, but also the lack of hygiene, educational resources and a basic housing guarantee. All of these are basic human rights. Therefore, in order to adhere to the concept of sustainable development, we should change the cultural narrative of economic growth or charity to that of human rights or the people-oriented concept. Only in this way can we achieve a higher level of social justice and human rights.

B. About development and the right to development

Development was once equated with pure economic growth, Westernization, and industrialization, which in turn were equated with human progress. This narrative still exists and seems to be one of borderlines between “advancement” and “backwardness.”

Development, as a discourse, is generated under a special cultural context. If development is defined by economic growth and measured by whether it follows the pattern of Western industrialization or not, the concept itself needs to be questioned. We all use the concepts of developed countries and developing countries, but the criteria for measuring development deserve more reflection. In this sense, development is a word that needs to be redefined or reinterpreted.

In 1986, the UN Declaration on the Right to Development defined development as “a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process,” which completely changed the cultural narrative about “development.” It is also pointed out in the Declaration on the Right to Development that “equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals who make up nations” and “the human person is the central subject of the development process and that development policy should therefore make human beings the main participant and beneficiary of development.” The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentstates that development is not only GDP growth, but also inclusive growth, including social and environmental justice as well as partnerships. The history of development tells us that pure economic growth does not equal development. We should never seek so-called development at the expense of the interests of a certain people. People are the true wealth of a country. As President Xi Jinping emphasized during the 2015 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum, “the ultimate goal of development is for the people. While eliminating poverty and protecting people's livelihoods, we must safeguard social fairness and justice to ensure that everyone enjoys the opportunities and fruits of development. Efforts should be made to achieve coordinated development in the economy, society, and environment so as to build a harmonious relationship between human beings and society and realize the harmonious co-existence between human beings and nature.”

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such kind of a narrative about development is called “inclusive growth” or “inclusive development.” Inclusive growth aims to create economic opportunities through the ability of investors to build and construct fair competition, which allows all people to benefit from economic growth in an equitable manner. Inclusive development seeks social and economic coordination and sustainable development, pursues social justice and sustainable development,8 and strives to realize the objective of “development for the people, by the people, and to the benefit of all people.”9

C. About south-south cooperation

From the musicians' Live Aid campaign to support Africa in 1984, we can see that international aid provided by developed countries implies that the existing political and economic order is reasonable, that Westernization and industrialization represent civilized and ascensive development. It is the cultural narrative of “love”, “charity” and “give.” Such kind of a narrative does not reflect on the reasons for longterm poverty in Africa or other developing countries or bear any incentive to reform the unequal political and economic order, such as the exemption of African foreign debt or the promotion of fair trade. In the course of development, we should pay more attention to the historical experience of “marginal” countries. We have to analyze how they are involved in the world system, as well as the economic, political and cultural links between marginal countries and central countries. It is on this basis that we can see the importance of South-South cooperation. In the Global South, these developing countries are faced with common development issues. Rather than solely relying on the development experiences of Western countries a great deal of experience and lessons can be shared among South-South countries. The experience and development lessons of South-South countries are more appropriate and they also play the role of establishing and enhancing the subjectivity and internal impetus of the development of South-South countries. The economic and technical cooperation among South-South countries can also confront the unequal political and economic order and gradually break the unequal relationship between the “center” and the “periphery”. It is also beneficial to eliminate the gap between the North and the South. The process of globalization should not be a process to transform the South into the North but a process of mutual influence, which requires South-South cooperation to produce the power that can influence the global development process.

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Goal 17 proposes South-South cooperation, from “technology” and “capacity-building” to “revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development”. Goal 17.6 proposes to “enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technolgy facilitation mechanism”. And Goal 17.9 proposes to “enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.” As pointed out in the Report on China's Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (200015)10 that “while China is committed to its own development, South-south cooperation is positively executed, and assistance and support is provided to other developing countries within China's capacity.” For example, since 2010, China has launched or co-sponsored the establishment of the New Development Bank with the BRICS members and the Silk Road Fund and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank with the aim of making up for the deficiencies of the existing international financial system, safeguarding the multilateral trading and financial system, and improving global governance. China has announced the unconditional exemption of debt from the heavily indebted poor countries and the least-developed countries six times with a total value of about 30 billion yuan. On January 1, 2015, the Chinese government formally gave 97-percent tax items of the least developed countries that have established diplomatic relations with China zero-tariff treatment. In September and October 2013, during his visit to Central Asia countries and Southeast Asia countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the significant initiative to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is conducive to promote greater, higher and deeper regional cooperation among countries along the routes as well as an active exploration of the new model of international cooperation and global governance. China has also carried out external medical assistance and capacity-building in education and health. South-South cooperation has the significance of promoting global justice and development justice, which can be seen from the new cultural narrative.

Ⅲ. Conclusion

As for how to tell the stories of poverty and poverty reduction, development, and South-South cooperation, there are different ways. Development is never divorced from its social and cultural contexts, so it is always realized against a certain cultural background. Cultural narrative influences our basic understanding, strategies and policies for development. Therefore, we should pay attention to and reflect on the cultural narrative about poverty reduction, development, and South-South cooperation and turn it into the narrative on human rights or people-centered narrative, inclusive growth and development, as well as global justice and structural reform. In conclusion, we should build the cultural force in favor of “Development Justice”11and abandon the set pattern that development equals to economic development to reduce the inequality between different countries and social groups.

(Translated by HU Liang)

* BU Wei ( 卜卫 ), Researcher, Director of the Media Communication and Youth Development Research Center of Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

1. Roy·Shuker, Understanding Popular Music, trans. Wei Wei (Beijing: World Publishing Corporation, 2013), 292.

2. Roland Robertson and Jan Aart Scholte, Encyclopedia of Globalization, trans. Wang Ling, et al. (Nanjing: Yilin Press, Phoenix Publishing & Media Network, 2011), 509-510.

3. Susanne Schech and Jane Haggis, Culture and Development: A Critical Introduction, trans. Shen Taixun (Taipei: Taiwan Juliu Publishing Co., Ltd., 2007), 5-7.

4. Peter Preston, Development Theory An Introduction, trans. Li Xiaoyun, Qi Gubo and Xu Xiuli (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2011), 185.

5. Ibid., 185.

6. Ibid.

7. Colin Sparks, Globalization, Development, and the Mass Media, trans. Liu Ge and Chang Yiru (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2009), 102.

8. Li Shi, The Policy of Income Distribution Promoting Inclusive Development, Inclusive Development and Poverty Reduction, ed. Zuo Changsheng (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2013), 59-60.

9. Hu Jintao, Speech at the Fifth APEC Ministerial Conference on Human Resources Development, September 16, 2010, Xinhua News Agency, http://www.xinhuanet/com. Accessed December 15, 2017.

10. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Report on China's Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), http://cn. china-gate.cn/reports/2015-07/28/content_36164105.htm, accessed December 16, 2017.

11. “From Inclusive to Just Development — Bangkok Civil Society Declaration”, 24 August 2013, Bangkok, Thailand.

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