Note: China does not allow access to either Facebook or WordPress. If you’re reading this, that means we found a way to get the blog posted. However, pictures will have to wait until we get home. Sorry.
Less than 12 hours into our tour of China, we were warned that our planned trip to the American Embassy could actually be detoured by potential demonstrations by the Chinese in front of the Embassy gates. Demonstrations – some of which were inflammatory – had occurred in front of the Japanese and American embassies on Monday because of property disputes between China and Japan; and the U.S. response to this, which was to remain neutral.
There was no demonstration in sight, which is a bit of a pity. I mean, how often do you get to see a good demonstration?
The potential threat prompted our tour officials to provide bus passage to the Embassy, which was less than two blocks away from our hotel. This would have been a great day for a walk; temperatures were in the 70s and the sun was shining brightly. Instead, we got to see Beijing traffic up close and personal. At an intersection in which we needed to turn the coaster left across nearly a half-dozen lanes of traffic, there were cars, scooters, bicyclists, walkers, folks on mopeds, families in rickshaws – all trying to get somewhere at the same time. Mr. Zhao assured us that this is normal.
If we couldn’t see a demonstration, observing Beijing’s traffic chaos firsthand isn’t a bad runner-up.
All these people, hustling and bustling, is a representative sample of the nation of China. By itself, Beijing is the 12 largest city in the world, containing about 9 million people. China is the globe’s most populated nation, containing 1.3 billion people. Each year, the Chinese government lists its top social issues. Keeping its people well-fed is at the top.
China imports an estimated $117 billion of agriculture goods each year. The U.S. is the largest supplier of ag goods to China, sending about $25 million worth of products, with soybeans representing about half that total (cotton, wood, hides/skins and distillers grains make up most of the rest).
Scott Sindelar, USDA’s Minister Counselor here, says China faces growing pains. Despite being the number two economy in the world (and will probably be number one in a few years), all is not perfect.
China cannot feed its people. What we’ve learned in the past 18 months from hunger-induced unrest in Egypt and Syria is that a hungry population can cause a lot of problems. China needs to be “food secure,” or able to produce and/or purchase enough food to satisfy a growing population with extremely diverse tastes.
China strives to be self-sufficient in corn, wheat and rice production, but because only 12% of the land is arable, water resources, are limited and the number of farmers is declining. But China is also protective of its own food supply. There are quotas in place for importing corn, wheat, rice and sugar. It has ceased importing U.S. beef due to a BSE incident a few years back. These are steps the government has taken to appease its farmers; there are dozens of other challenges, too. There aren’t enough cattle to satiate the nation’s appetite for beef; the transportation industry is a mess; consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated, desiring high-quality foods that China’s farmers cannot produce.
The U.S. has its work cut out for it. We are a ready and willing partner with this huge country, but China is protective of its own industry. That requires a different approach, says Mr. Sindelar, who says the U.S. message to China is clear: “U.S. agriculture is not a threat to China’s own agriculture industry. That is a frequent, but untrue message. We are solutions to each other’s challenges.”
Having flown to Shenyang, tomorrow we will learn more about this important agricultural region in the heartland of this interesting country.