China's challenge: Lifting the lot of the poor is a national priority

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As this year's session of China's National People's Congress, its ostensible legislature, draws to an end with the affirmation of Xi Jinping as president, some themes have emerged on what appear to be the policy priorities of China's new leadership.

One is tackling the growing income gap between China's wealthy elite and its poor. As the country prospers, with 2012's economic growth estimated at 7.8 percent, the rich are getting richer but the poor aren't improving by as much. The congress itself has an estimated 31 members who are billionaires. Many of China's people feel betrayed by this, and their protests have become louder, given that the Communist Party credo is to raise the poor's standard of living. The leadership also knows that the promise of a higher living standard lies at the core of its claim to legitimacy as a ruling group, making the issue too dangerous to ignore.

In perhaps an interesting coincidence, one of the salient facts about Francis, the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church, is his humility and advocacy for the poor. He chose his name in honor of Francis of Assisi, who was noted for his devotion to the needy. The stories of how the new pope lived in Buenos Aires emphasize his identification with the ordinary people of Argentina. If he makes social inequality and the lot of the world's downtrodden his main concern, he will be addressing a critical problem. He will also not be out of line with what the rulers of China say will be one of their top priorities.

At the moment, some of America's leaders show a disregard for the lot of the poor in the United States, looking instead at options to cut government services in education, health care and other support for children and the aged -- so that more can be spent on the military and to avoid tax reform.

So, looking at China, Pope Francis and some of the United States' hard-hearted elected leaders, who is out of step? Who is out of line with the times? And do they imagine that the people don't notice?



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