Amid pandemic, China stares at food crisis

WION New Delhi Aug 14, 2020, 08.28 PM(IST) Edited By: Palki Sharma

Seafood in China Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

China relies on the world to feed its people. Now, China is reeling under a crisis of its own making.

On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about a campaign called "Operation empty plate" which was initially launched in 2013 to target big feasts held by Chinese officials. Now, Xi Jinping has expanded it to the public.

The Chinese president asked his people to stop wasting food and eat frugally. He did not say a word about food shortage, instead Xi Jinping spoke about "bumper harvest in my country's grain production year after year".

President Xi lied. China's crops have been wiped out by the mass flooding and food prices are on the rise. Xi Jinping also hid another truth - China's food security is hanging by the thread.

The are several reasons for it. Firstly, China is home to 1.4 billion people but the country is far from self-reliant. It imports 20 per cent to 30 per cent of its food grains. China was the world's top agricultural market between 2003 and 2017, its food imports have grown from $14 billion to $105 billion from the top-10 import partners alone, China imports food worth $75.3 billion.

It imports $22.7 billion worth from Brazil, $18.1 billion from the United States, $5.6 billion from Canada, $5.35 billion from New Zealand, $4.3 billion from Indonesia, $4.13 billion from Thailand, $3.37 billion from Hong Kong and $2.84 billion from France, according to 2017 data.

The moral of the story is that China relies on the world to feed its people. Now, China is reeling under a crisis of its own making. It is in a trade war with the US which is the same country from which Beijing had imported grains worth $5.5 billion last year.

China's total agricultural imports from India in 2018-19 was worth $1999 million, major imports included prawns, castor oil, capsicum etc. Food security has always been a priority for China since it needs to feed 1.4 billion people but Xi Jinping has rejigged China's priority list by putting his expansionist ambitions above everything else. The result is the global supply chain has been impaired because of the Wuhan virus pandemic.

Countries are refusing to engage with China because of its aggressive foreign policy and then there are the trade wars. In short, China may be headed towards a food crisis.

However, Xi Jinping has been masquerading through the crisis as a frugal campaigner under "Operation empty plate", restaurants are being asked to offer small portions and diners are being asked to order less. Xi Jinping may be hiding the problem of food shortage that China may soon be facing.

Beijing may have known it for some time. In June, China imported 910,000 tons of wheat, it was a 197 per cent increase year-on-year. It imported 880,000 tons of corn which is a year-on-year increase of 23 per cent. Imports of sorghum surged to 680,000 tons and sugar imports touched 140,000 tons. It is a 196 per cent year-on-year increase. Earlier, the numbers looked like China was trying to take advantage of cheap global prices but it looks it could have been China trying to avert a crisis.

It was stocking up in the fear of being cut-off from the global supply chain but the question is how long will these stocks last because by the looks of it China's isolation is not ending anytime soon.