New Delhi: Economists noticed an interesting trend of China inking back-to-back deals on food grains and food products with multiple nations across the world. Most of the deals involve a massive transaction of food items. It has also signed deals with its adversaries, reflecting that the country is going probably going through a major food crisis.
China's food inflation rose by 13.2% in July 2020. Prices of most of the food products consumed by a common Chinese on a day-to-day basis have shot up, from cereals to meat products. The National Bureau of Statistics has revealed that the prices of most commonly consumed meat, pork has increased by 86%.
China is resorting to aggressive import of food products from all over the world. The critical condition can be understood from the fact that the country is procuring almost all the major food items.
According to China General Administration Customs, the country has also increased its grain imports during the first half of this year by 22.7%, leading to a food grain import measuring 74.51 million tons. Though China has been the largest producer of soybean for the past few years, yet it plans to import 40 million tons this year from its arch rival USA.
Import data suggests that China's wheat import went to a seven-year high during June this year. It imported 910,000 tons of wheat during June 2020, which meant an increase of 197% on a year-on-year basis. Besides, it also imported 880,000 tons of corn, 680,000 tons of sorghum and 140,000 tons of sugar.
The harvest has been so low that China’s state grain reserve system could purchase only 45 million tons of wheat in June-July, reflecting a 17.2% decline from the past year. Observers believe that beside the low harvest, farmers are storing the food item with them and not storing with the government under apprehension regarding the ongoing food crisis.It is believed that the Chinese government is pressurizing the citizens to store their food grains with the government for enabling the country to project that the food crisis is not too severe.
The low production is also coupled with the intense floods in the Three Gorges and the Yangtze Basin, which washed away thousands of acres of fertile lands with standing crops. Floods have impacted the lives of 54.8 million people and have inflicted an economic loss of US$ 20.8 billion.
The locust swarm attack and the African Swine Flu Fever have also proved to be lethal for the country’s agriculture sector. The latter one is said to have killed a majority share of the pig population in the country,leading to a crisis in meat production.
The calamity has come at a time when the proportion of cultivable land in the country has been declining at a rapid rate. According to China's Ministry of Natural Resources, its cultivable land kept declining for four consecutive years in 2017, measuring 60,900 hectares as compared to the previous year.
In order to meet the deficit between food consumption and food production, China has started to purchase and lease out fertile lands and fields in many African, South American and ASEAN countries including Djibouti, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Chile, Argentina, Cambodia, Laos, etc. China spent around US$ 94 billion to purchase agricultural lands abroad. The number seems to have increased in the past few years.
However, experts believe that China is also eyeing the fertile areas of its all-weather ally Pakistan. Besides exploiting the natural resources of Balochistan, now China plans to use Sindh as its hub for growing food crops. Though it has already established a certain amount of control over territories like GB,PoJK,Balochistan and given the less fertile terrains of these areas,China cannot utilize them to grow crops.Hence, Sindh is a new alternative . Another major advantage of controlling farm grains and growing crops in Sindh is the economical transportation cost of the agriculture products to China .Transportation from African or South American countries is expensive and is time taking.
For institutional sanction on using Pakistani land by China, the country recently went into an agreement on agriculture cooperation with Pakistan.China has now got ownership of several thousand acres of Pakistani land for the purpose of ‘demonstration projects’ in the field of agriculture.
The Chinese President seems to be increasingly concerned about the looming food crisis in the country. After running the campaign to stop food wastages, media censorship of food related videos, and urging the Chinese not to waste the food, Xi Jinping is also seeking ideas from experts to handle the crisis. In a recent seminar with top scientists and businessmen, Jinping discussed the possible ways and sought ideas to reduce dependency on foreign countries, especially on food grains. The Chinese President is counting the importance of agriculture in his speeches in past few visits of agriculture dominating Chinese provinces.
Declining consumption over insecurities due to the pandemic has also compelled the citizens to limit their consumption, leading to recession of the economy. The markets are empty and people are not willing to spend. China’s Ministry of Commerce came up with a campaign titled ‘China Consumption Promotion Month’ to encourage Chinese citizens to accelerate consumption, organised between 8th September and 8th October. To further boost consumption, the Chinese government has started to issue coupons since March 2020 to prompt consumers to spend. According to the data of Alipay, local governments of more than 100 cities have issued digital coupons to enhance consumption.
From aggressive imports and foreign land deals to massive campaigns against food wastage and content censorship, China is making every possible effort to tackle the looming crisis. Even if it miserably fails, it plans to cover-up the news from the rest of the world. Several reports in the global media suggest that the world has apparently begun to know about China’s failure to entitle food security to its citizens that it has pledged to its citizens under the ‘six guarantees’ by the Chinese state.
China’s aggressive behavior towards India, Taiwan, Japan and ASEAN countries is only to divert attention of the Chinese public over the economic crisis.
Interestingly, China has been in contradiction to its own data on agriculture, claiming that its economy is reviving despite the pandemic. However, experts feel that China has been manipulating the economic data for propaganda purpose.It is too early to conclude that Chinese economy is on the recovery phase.