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China’s continued rising dependence on food imports a perpetual geopolitical risk

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(TibetanReview.net, Dec31’23) – Despite record-high grain output this year, making it the 20th consecutive bumper harvest year, China continues to be more dependent than ever before on imports, especially from the US, Canada and Australia, a potential geopolitical risk, according to a voanews.com report Dec 31.

The report cited experts as saying China’s food self-sufficiency rate has kept on decreasing, driving it to rely heavily on imports.

While China apparently claims self-sufficiency in “food rations”, this does not equal having enough self-produced food to feed the entire population. “Rations” usually only refers to rice and wheat, but broader food stuffs such as corn, sorghum and legumes still need to be imported in large quantities, the report said.

A report by the Institute of Rural Development of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was stated to note that by 2025, China may have a grain gap of about 130 million tons, about 20% of the projected 2024 output.

The report quoted Genevieve Donnellon-May, a research associate at the Asia Society Policy Institute, as saying that although claims of China running out of food are overhyped, Beijing, as the world’s largest food importer, “does remain concerned that food supplies and food imports could be weaponized by other nations, affecting China’s national security.”

Although China’s official statistics state that grain output has been above 650 million tons for the past 20 years – with this year’s output officially reported to be 695 million tons – a report from the China Macroeconomic Development Forum last year has stated that more than one-third of its food now relies on imports. In fact, over the past 20 years, China’s food security level, or food self-sufficiency rate, was stated to have dropped from 93.6% in 2000 to 65.8%.

Karen Mancl, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at the Ohio State University, has said that in 2000, China was able to feed itself. “However, “five percent of agricultural land has been lost in China over the last 10 years to non-farm use. And that’s something that country really can’t afford.”

China’s self-sufficiency rate in soybean was 62.4% in 2000; but 20 years later, it had dropped to 16.6%, Chinese agricultural experts were stated to have reported at the Macroeconomic Development Forum.

According to Caitlin Welsh, director of the Global Food and Water Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, food self-sufficiency is only a “political desire” and is an impossible goal for most countries worldwide, including developed countries.

China’s high- level of dependence on a handful of countries, especially the US, Canada and Australia, for food is considered to have extremely high potential geopolitical risks. The Chinese government has revealed last year that among all importers, the US is the largest source of China’s grain imports, accounting for 37.3%.

Donnellon-May has said, “Concerns remain in Beijing that the country’s food import supply could be affected by potential maritime embargoes by the US in times of military clashes, or other issues.”

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