The “Hunger-Game” of the Dragon Nation

In the game of power politics between the great nations, a new leader has emerged. With the increasingly protectionist policies of the US, its influence over the world is diminishing. On the other hand, China is rapidly foraying in the global markets and making home abroad. For a country that kept itself shut from the curious eyes of the west for most of its existence, this trend is highly unnatural and aberrant.

This is the reason why most security analysts and geopolitics experts are gauging each move by China with an eye of suspicion. By looking at the way China continues to lend non-performing debts to countries in need and keeps on expanding its empire abroad, one could argue that the measures are a result of its grand vision for world dominance. However, upon changing the vantage point and looking deep into China itself, one could find a different picture. As one examines China closely, it becomes apparent that these moves could also be a product of its desire of self sustenance. The dragon that look strong and glorious is actually caught in an undesirable “hunger-game”.

China’s Agricultural Problem

One of the major reasons behind the Dragon gliding into foreign lands is because there is little to sustain at home. China’s agriculture industry, despite the continual efforts of the Communist government, remains inefficient to feed the world’s highest population count that depends on it. But to be fair, it’s not solely the industry’s fault either, or the government’s but the root of the issue lies to a great extent in the geography of China. Most of China is unproductive agriculturally. The part which is the most fertile is the Yellow River region to the south and east. The west has an arid Tibet which is around 20-25% of the country’s land mass and the Taklamakan desert. In fact, even the Northern plain, which includes Beijing, is home to China’s 65% agriculture, but only 24% of the total water.

The problem becomes even more acute given the massive amount of population that China withholds. A comparison of population and arable land in hectares per person shows that China lies at a serious disadvantage compared to other countries. While a country like Australia has a population of just 0.02 billion and an arable land (per person) of around 2 hectares, China’s numbers are quite the opposite. Having a population of a staggering 1.41 billion, it’s arable land per person comes to just 0.08 hectare. To put in perspective, every Australian citizen could be allotted 25 times more arable land than in China. This puts a lot of additional pressure on the farmland that exists and is shrinking every single day. As per a report from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources, 19.4% of the agricultural land is unproductive. A net effect of such geographical constraints has resulted in small agricultural lands with a lot of pressure to increase productivity.

As a culmination of these effects, it’s no wonder that China is investing heavily in Biotech practices that facilitate multi-tier agriculture in huge buildings inside cities. Many are now experimenting with indoor farming models to come up with the best way of growing organic crops. The government is now also allowing a wider variety of Genetically modified crops produced outside, which some in China say, could is a detrimental move. Other than biotechnology, China has also employed its foreign ministry and the complete agricultural industry to work together and secure land and grains outside the mainland. A major part of its investment schemes are aimed at improving the agricultural efficiency in developing countries, which ultimately is in the interest of the Chinese population.

While the country itself plans to focus on becoming self-sufficient in staple foods like rice, corn and wheat, the country’s appetite for animal food is increasing rapidly. Matching its efforts on land towards an Agricultural revolution, the Chinese are also flocking the sea with their fishing boat. Supported by heavy subsidization, its fishing fleet has now over 2,600 ships, 10 times that of United States.

However, more interesting has been the growth of beef and pork consumption in China. People in China are now eating more beef than ever before. However, given the fact that beef is a very agriculturally intensive food (one has to feed a whole of grain to the cow before butchering her), China doesn’t undertake the task itself. Here’s where it’s national policy of buying foreign companies has come in handy. Relying on overseas suppliers, beef sales to China have risen a staggering 19,000 percent in the past decade. Coping with the increasing demand, Chinese pork producer- Shuanghui International (now known as WH Group) purchased its American competitor, Smithfield Foods, for $7.1 billion in 2013. This still remains the largest American acquisition by a Chinese company. Now, a quarter of pigs fed and fattened on the US soil by Smithfield, lands in Chinese stomachs. Following the lines of the Smithfield acquisition, the Chinese state-owned enterprise- Shanghai CRED, scored a joint deal with Australia’s richest woman to buy over 1 percent of the continent’s land mass  in one fell swoop. With the land, also comes the 185,000 cattles which the Chinese would love to devour.

Warning Bells Abroad

While China is simply trying to feed its massive population, it’s also coming at the cost of global food security. It is also costing a lot of monetary damage to smaller poorer countries that depend heavily on their fishing industry. Their highly sophisticated and targeted fishing operations have reportedly costed West coastal Africa $2 billion annually. Some Phillip citizens even accuse China of colluding with their President in what amounts to an abdication of West Philippine Sea (part of the South China Sea within Philippines EEZ).Given the humongous scale of the operation, it is only pertinent for these countries to be wary of a Dragon, eager to feed on their lands.

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