Li Zhisong knew there were poverty-struck communities in Nigeria and Ethiopia, where he worked for years, but was shocked to discover there are places just as poor in China.
Li, 44, former manager of state-owned cement engineering system provider Sinoma (Nanjing) International Engineering Co. Ltd., is now in charge of poverty reduction as deputy head of the Yongshan County government in southwest China's Yunnan Province, a position he has held since March.
"There are no industries and no quality roads here at all," said Li, adding that 116,200 people, or 28 percent of the county's population, live below the national poverty line of 2,800 yuan (418 U.S. dollars) per year.
With 7 million yuan in poverty reduction funds from Sinoma, Li has helped build two roads and two bridges this year and expects to develop the Traditional Chinese Medicine industry in the county to pull villagers out of poverty.
"As a state-owned enterprise, it is our responsibility to help the less developed western regions fight poverty," said Li, former deputy head of the logistics department of Sinoma (Nanjing) and a native of the wealthy eastern province of Jiangsu.
China started pairing off its developed eastern regions and underdeveloped western regions two decades ago to cooperate in poverty alleviation and bridge the widening gap between rich and poor. State-owned enterprises are major contributors to provide both capital and talent.
In 1996, half of China's 65 million people living in poverty had an annual income of less than 300 yuan -- barely enough to feed themselves.
To provide the poor with adequate food and clothing, the Chinese government issued a regulation on Oct. 23, 1996, ordering 13 developed coastal provinces and municipalities to help 10 underdeveloped western regions.
Cooperation includes regional government assistance, support from individuals, and business cooperation between the eastern and western regions.
While basic food and clothing problems in China were solved more than a decade ago, the pairing mechanism remains in place.
"East-west cooperation has shown itself to be an effective platform for advancing both economic growth and common prosperity, and thus needs to be maintained for the long term," said Kong Xiangzhi, a professor at Renmin University of China.
China aims to eliminate poverty by 2020, and east-west cooperation is a government program to meet that target, said Kong.
China has entered a crucial stage in its poverty reduction efforts and the fight against poverty remains tough despite remarkable past achievements, according to a white paper titled "China's Progress in Poverty Reduction and Human Rights" published by the State Council Information Office Monday.
By the end of 2015, China had 55.75 million people living in poverty, equivalent to the entire population of a medium-sized country.
China has pledged to lift 10 million people out of poverty every year starting in 2016 by developing specialty industries, transferring employment, relocation and extended social security coverage.
The pairing-off mechanism enables capital, talent and projects from well-off eastern regions to flow to the poor western regions, adding impetus to economic growth in the west, said Kong.
During the past 20 years, the eastern regions have provided 13.27 billion yuan in financial support, mobilized donations worth 2.76 billion yuan and introduced 1.5 trillion yuan in corporate investment to the western regions, according to official data.
In Kashgar, China's westernmost city with 1.05 million people living in poverty, booming Guangdong Province invested 3.08 billion yuan to build nine industrial parks over the past three years, with the aim of creating jobs -- the most important thing for poverty reduction.
Mariaguri Mohammad, a 28-year-old woman from rural Jiashi County, began working at an electronics assembly line two years ago at Guangdong Sycco Development Enterprise located in Jiashi Industrial Park, one of the nine parks built in Kashgar.
"I was the first to work here in my village, and now I have more than 20 peers," said Mohammad, who earns more than 2,000 yuan a month, enough to lift her family out of poverty.
Sycco currently has four plants in Kashgar, offering more than 8,000 jobs to nearby villagers, most of whom are ethnic Uygurs.
Industrial development, rather than mere financial aid, will help eradicate poverty by improving the ability of impoverished areas to develop independently, said Cai Yifei, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The resource-rich western regions have great investment potential and huge markets. Enterprises from the east should take the chance to transfer their production capabilities to the west, said Cai.
To achieve its goal of eliminating poverty by 2020, China on Monday unveiled measures to emphasize the poverty alleviation responsibilities of officials, stating that heads of impoverished counties will not be promoted or transferred to other posts unless the counties eliminate poverty.
The more developed eastern regions should gradually increase input to assist poverty-stricken areas in central and western regions, said the statement jointly published by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.
"We will find a way that most suits Yongshan County," said Li Zhisong, wh