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As China faces severe food crisis, Xi Jinping regime adopts censorship to tackle problem

China is suffering from a severe food crisis. The food prices in China have been shot up, adding to the miseries of the citizens, but the communist regime once again has adopted censorship, not to curb dissent this time, but to overcome its food crisis. 

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China's President Xi Jinping. (File Photo)
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China is suffering from a severe food crisis. The food prices in China have been shot up, adding to the miseries of the citizens, but the communist regime once again has adopted censorship, not to curb dissent this time, but to overcome its food crisis. 

The state-controlled media and social media have been tasked with a comprehensive programme to censor content related to food and to flood the internet with propaganda materials to prevent food wastage.

According to a report of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) owned news platform Global Times, China’s popular short-video platform Douyin has taken steps to ‘rectify’ live streaming eating shows. The platform plans to censor content as well as penalise those who search for keywords like “eating show” or “competitive eater”. Besides, searching such keywords would also lead to sermons on the value of food. 

On similar lines, other social media platforms like Douyu, Sina Weibo, and Kuaishou have also taken steps to censor content and penalise whosoever is interested in food or eating videos involving large quantities of food. Most of these platforms have also gone to the extent of deleting food videos and shutting down the accounts that post videos related to large quantities of food. 

The CCP government has also launched a "Clean Plate Campaign 2.0", a refurbished version of the previous campaign of 2013, to avoid wastage of food. The 1.0 version was launched to cover up the allegations of lavish spendings and squandering in parties and get together events by CCP officials. 

The criticality of the issue can be gauged by the fact that Xi Jinping had to come out in public and urge Chinese citizens to stop food wasting. In a statement published over Xinhua, he also threatened to punish the Chinese citizens involved in the breach of anti-food wastage guidelines. 

However, giving a setback to the anti-food wastage campaign, ‘big eating shows’ and the popularity of ‘big eaters’ have gained impressive popularity in China. In the past few days, shows related to big eating have been major hits and millions of hashtags related to such content have been generated in the Chinese social media. 

Though the CCP Government is citing a couple of general figures on food wastages to justify its campaigns and content censoring. It said that in 2015, the catering industry of China constituted 11.7% of the total meal available in China. In the same year, the urban catering industry of the country wasted 17 to 18 million tons of food - an amount sufficient to feed around 30 to 50 million people for a year.

However, the logic seems implausible and a deeper look into China’s domestic food production reflects that the actual reason behind such a rigorous campaign is domestic woes leading to the food shortage in China. 

As per some analysts, China’s food industry has been hit from multiple fronts for the past few months. Firstly, the susceptibility of the country to pathogens is leading to an elevated crisis as the African Swine Flu, which began to rapidly spread in 2019, has wiped up a substantial amount of the total number of pigs in the country. In 2019 alone, around 40% of China’s total pig population became the casualties of the Flu. Secondly, millions of acres of land in China were affected by locust attacks. 

According to a report of China’s National Agriculture Technology Extension Service Center (NATESC), Fall armyworm in China’s southwestern areas infected millions of acres of land, especially harming corn crops in regions like Yunnan province. After the locust attacks began towards the end of 2019, the report anticipated, “It is expected that in 2020, fall armyworm will be very severe and the situation will be extremely grave.” The anticipation subsequently proved true after around 3 million acres of cropland were infested by locust armyworm. Thirdly, crops in another million acres of farmland were washed away due to uncontrolled floods. Besides flooding in other areas, farmlands in the regions along the Yangtze River have been washed away, affecting nascent paddy plantations - substantially reducing China’s rice production. 

Consequently, China has resorted to an aggressive import of food products from all over the world - including agro as well as animal products. China’s food products have increased multiple times until June 2020 as compared to last year's figures. China’s meat exports till the first half of 2020 were valued at 108 billion RMB against 8 billion RMB during the first half of 2019. 

People of China already going through a recession and low farm income now have to spend on food a lot more. This condition has further slowed down the Chinese economy as it could be seen in the slowdown in the retail sector. Seemingly, the income of Chinese people is being primarily spent on procuring food for their families.

Similar to the crisis existing in flesh production, the condition of the food grains production is equally worrying. Despite being the second-largest producer of wheat in the world, it has been aggregating wheat from all across the world throughout the first half of 2020. China also had to make its largest-ever corn procurement from the US. It is noteworthy that China is also the second-largest corn producer country in the world. 

Not only corn, but China is also planning to seal a major deal to procure soybeans as the demand for soybean rose to a two-year high demand in the current week. China needs soybeans for its domestic population as well as to feed the pigs. Though conspiracy theorists are arguing about the ‘fishy’ nature of deals with the US, yet it would be apt to say that the real reason behind such deals lies in China’s ever-growing food crisis. 

The back-breaking food crisis has compelled China to turn to its arch-rival US and it plans to further procure more food items in large quantities from it. China is importing everything from foodgrains to meat, to seafood. China has lately come to realise that its 'Lone Wolf’ policy won't take it towards progress as it is impossible to live isolated in an increasingly globalised and connected world defined by mutual interdependence. 

Besides poor food production, the sufferings of China could also be attributed to a group of other factors consisting of population explosion, economic slowdown, and efforts of building a capitalist society based on maximalist consumption. 

However, the current food crisis is not instantaneous and has built over several existing factors. The crisis began to germinate as early as 2017. According to a report of Chinascope - a news portal dedicated to information and research on China, “the national summer grain production data that the National Bureau of Statistics released showed that the total summer grain production was 138.72 million tons in 2018, down by 3.0% or 3.06 million tons from 2017. The Committee of the Market Early Warning Experts of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs released an analysis of the supply and demand situation as to China’s agricultural products in August 2018.” 

Hence, the arguments of the trend being a nascent development in China are absolutely unsubstantiated and the reason behind the current crisis is the failure of policy decisions of the Chinese Government. The Hawkish attempts to procure food and censoring the media reflects a lack of confidence in China's authoritarian regime and highlights the need for the CCP to rethink its policies. 

American jurist Potter Steward once argued, “censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” In an increasingly liberal world and open societies, a couple of countries yet resort to censorship to curb dissent and channelise the narrative according to the wishes of the regime. China is one country that practices a regressive and extreme form of censorship.

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