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China Faces Food Supply Risks

China is intensifying efforts to address food security concerns. Following recent discussions at the Central Economic Work Conference and the “San Nong” (agriculture, rural areas, farmers) work conference, Xi Jinping stressed that the local party and government organs share “joint responsibility for food security.”

China has officially claimed that its supply of staple foods exceeds 100 percent self-sufficiency and is “absolute secure.” However, “staple foods” typically refer to only rice and wheat. China still imports significant amounts of other essential grains including corn, sorghum, and legumes. A report from the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has warned of a potential grain gap of 130 million tons by the end of the “14th Five-Year Plan” period (2021-2025), with a cereal gap of about 25 million tons. A report from the China Macroeconomic Forum last year indicated that “more than one-third of all food [consumed in China] is now reliant on imports.” China’s food self-sufficiency rate has declined over the past 20 years, dropping from 93.6 percent in 2000 to the current rate of 65.8 percent. The rate for soybeans was 62.4 percent in 2000 and has since fallen to 16.6 percent.

China’s network of food imports is dependent on a few countries, primarily the United States. Beijing no doubt sees this as a geopolitical risk. To diversify imports, China seeks to “enhance cooperation” with over 140 countries.

China’s second strategic worry is the vulnerability of the sea-based food transportation routes on which it relies. As of 2023, the majority of food imported to China traveled through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca (which connects the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea). Transport through the Suez Canal is currently disrupted by Houthi military activity in the Red Sea, forcing ships bound for China to travel a much longer route circumnavigating Africa. A sea blockade at the Strait of Malacca would cause further delays or disruption to China’s food import network.

Source: Voice of America, December 26, 2023