Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged his country to take immediate actions to curb what he called its “shocking and distressing” food waste problem as the worst flooding along the Yangtze River in years threatens the country’s important rice crop.  In an instruction released last week, People dine at the Quanjude Peking roast duck restaurant, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, Aug. 18, 2020.Zhong Dajun, director of the Beijing Dajun Institute for Economic Observation, told VOA that the wasting of food  has been increasing over the years as people gained more disposable income.    “I think compared to the general public, officials dining with public funds account for only a small proportion,” he said. “With strong spending power, Chinese people have to pay attention to frugality and saving food.”   Preparing or ordering more food than necessary has long been regarded as a symbol of hospitality in China. Zhu Qizhen, a professor at China Agricultural University, told the South China Morning Post that because of this tradition, “the amount of leftovers has become the standard for a sumptuous feast.”   A staff member who is also an anti-food waste supervisor, holds a tray at the Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, Aug. 18, 2020.Yet political commentator Heng Hei said one of the main problems with the country’s food waste problem is linked  to the lavish excesses of the Chinese Communist Party.    “This level of food wasting has to do with CCP’s extravagant culture. Ordinary Chinese people don’t waste to that level,” he said.    In a survey by China’s state newspaper Beijing Youth Daily in 2013, a shocking 97.8% of respondents felt that Chinese officials were wasting public funds.  Of those funds,  FILE – An aerial view shows the flooded Gu town following heavy rainfall in the region, in Luan, Anhui province, China, July 20, 2020.The country is experiencing the worst flooding in more than two decades, destroying thousands of acres of farmland along the Yangtze River. With the nickname “Land of Rice and Fish,” the broader Yangtze River basin accounts for 70% of China’s rice production.   Given how much cropland was damaged by mid-July, Chinese brokerage firm Shenwan Hongyuan estimated that China could lose 5% of its rice production compared to last year.    China’s FILE – A terraced rice paddy field is seen after rain in Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province, China, March 19, 2019.
Beijing has responded to the crisis by stabilizing supply from its strategic reserve. According to China Grain Reserves Group, Beijing has released 62.5 million tons of rice, 50 million tons of corn and over 760,000 tons of soybeans by the end of July, a level nearly double the volume released during the whole of 2019.    Meanwhile, China’s worsening relations with some of its major trade partners could create uncertainty for China’s food supply chain. For example, the country has been relying on imports from the U.S. to try to stabilize prices as well as fulfill its commitment to purchase U.S. agricultural products.   In the first six months of this year, China imported nearly 61 million tons of grain, a 21% jump from a year ago. Imports of corn, soybeans and wheat have also increased, according to data from Chinese customs.    FILE – A stall of the U.S. Soybean Export Council is seen during the China International Import Expo (CIIE), at the National Exhibition and Convention Center in Shanghai, China, Nov. 5, 2018.Analysts caution that an overdependence on food imports could hurt Beijing’s strategic interest. Meanwhile, the continuing political tensions with Western countries could lead to trade barriers such as higher taxes, raising prices and further threatening the country’s food security.    Economist Zhong Dajun said China has to import as least 100 million tons of crop every year, and “it will be pretty troublesome for Beijing to increase the production by that amount domestically.”