Monday, August 20, 2012

Chinese "Grain War" Paranoia

An essay posted on dozens of Chinese blogs this week warns that China's grain imports put the country at risk of being victimized by an American "grain war." Judging by the large number of blogs that posted it, the article apparently resonates with many Chinese people. Similar ideas regularly appear in the Chinese press and government documents. Many outsiders are oblivious to the conspiracy-drenched thinking presented in this article that guides many industry people and policymakers in China.

The essay, written by a journalist named Qiu Lin, asserts that the United States uses grain as a "strategic weapon" to force other countries to do its bidding. The U.S. government, says the writer, works hand-in-hand with "American" multinational grain companies to gain control of grain markets and then uses the threat of grain embargoes to achieve its political objectives.

Qiu Lin claims that "multinational grain companies like ADM, Bunge, and Cargill" are using their control of soybean production, logistics and storage to dominate the Chinese soybean market. He claims these companies "control Chinese farmers' intentions to plant soybeans," are trying to push China to allow planting of genetically modified soybeans, and replicate their control of the South American market in China. He warns that China can't allow the corn industry to follow this pattern.

Mr. Qiu refers to a Japanese magazine article warning that America uses a "grain strategy" to perpetuate its global hegemony. It warns that multinational grain companies have set up worldwide information collection networks that exceed the capabilities of spy agencies. The author cites 10 grain embargoes since 1950, eight by the United States. However, the only specific embargo he mentions is one against North Korea. He claims this example shows that the food weapon is more powerful than an aircraft carrier.

He then plays the subsidy card, claiming that subsidies account for 40 percent of the income of American farmers. Poor Chinese farmers, he says, work hard all year and only earn a third of what they could earn working off-farm. No one wants to plant crops, he says, posing a "hidden danger" to Chinese grain production.

The author warns that China's rising deficit between grain demand and supply will be provided mainly by America. Sooner or later, the United States will launch a "grain war" against China to prevent its economy from overtaking the U.S. economy, says Mr. Qiu.

This type of conspiracy theory thinking appeals to Chinese readers whose literature is filled with characters who win through guile and trickery. Trouble is, his argument is full of holes. He conveniently ignores, for example, that Yihai Kerry--based in Singapore--has by far the biggest share of China's vegetable oil market. The book, Merchants of Grain, emphasizes that the multinational grain companies have no nationality; they are composed of people from many countries and have moved from country to country following political winds and emigration of executives. Has the author ever heard of the "great grain robbery" during the 1970s that embarrassed the United States? Since when has the United States forced North Korea to do anything?

Writing on the failed 1980grain embargo intended to punish the Soviet Union for invading Afghanistan, Robert Paarlberg wrote, "U.S. illusions of its food power have been properly dispelled." Unfortunately, the illusion lives on in the minds of paranoid people all over the world.

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