“The crops have completely failed,” Bao told CNN Business in an interview over the social media app WeChat, adding that his family has already lost roughly 200,000 yuan ($28,000) worth of produce. “The rice was nearly ripened and ready to harvest before the flooding. But now everything is gone.”
Surging floodwater burst the banks of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province last month, destroying thousands of acres of farmland in what’s known as the “land of fish and rice.” The broader Yangtze River basin — which includes Poyang Lake and stretches more than 3,900 miles from Shanghai in the east to the Tibetan border in the west — accounts for 70% of the country’s rice production.
For farmers like Bao and his father, the damage has been devastating. Not only did the rainfall ruin crops they were about to collect, but the scale of the flooding has made it impossible to salvage anything from this year.
“The land is still under water,” Bao said. “That means we are not going to have any harvest for the entire year.”
The flooding that walloped Bao’s farm and 13 million more acres of cropland — about the size of West Virginia — is the worst that that China has experienced in years. China’s Ministry of Emergency Management pegs the direct economic cost of the disaster at $21 billion in destroyed farmland, roads and other property. Some 55 million people, including farmers like Bao, have been affected.
The disaster is bad news for the world’s second-largest economy, which is already in a fragile state because of the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing has so far been able to secure food supplies by importing vast amounts of produce from other countries, and by releasing tens of millions of tons from strategic reserves.
But analysts warn that such measures can only be useful for so long. Tense relationships between China and much of the Western world, and the coronavirus pandemic, may make importing a lot of food trickier in the future. The flooding in China, meanwhile, could soon get worse: Heavy rainfall is expected through much of this month, and Chinese officials have warned that the flooding could creep further north, threatening the country’s wheat and corn harvests.
“The flooding is already among the worst since 1998, and could worsen in coming weeks,” analysts from Nomura said in a note late last month.
It’s not entirely clear how much of China’s food supply may be at risk, since the government hasn’t released specifics about the current state of production.
If the flooding is contained by the end of August, agricultural GDP growth could fall by nearly a percentage point in the July-September quarter, according to analysts at Nomura — equivalent to more than $1.7 billion in lost agricultural output. That amount is based on losses recorded in mid-July in seven southern provinces that were hit particularly hard.
Analysts at the Chinese brokerage firm Shenwan Hongyuan, meanwhile, recently estimated that China could lose 11.2 million tons worth of food compared to last year, given how much cropland was damaged by mid July. That would be equivalent to 5% of the rice that China produces.
The damage might be even worse, though. Nomura’s analysis was based on data about flooded crop fields that the Chinese government released in July. Since then, the amount of cropland that has been damaged has roughly doubled, according to China’s Ministry of Emergency Response. Damage estimates released by analysts also don’t include the potential loss of wheat, corn or other crops, which could be threatened should the flooding spread.
Already, analysts point out that corn costs have been surging. The price of corn in China was 20% higher last month compared to a year ago, according to Chinese data provider SCI — the highest level in five years.
“I came here mainly to check out the crops,” Xi said in a video posted by state broadcaster CCTV. “There are quite a few disasters this year. I’m concerned about how crops are growing here in the northeast.”
Xi has good reason to visit the area. Northeastern China produces more than 40% of the country’s soybeans and a third of its corn — both vital to the food supply chain, since they are fed to livestock and poultry. China uses more soybeans than any other country in the world, and it’s only behind the United States in corn consumption. And while the region has so far been spared major flooding, that could change should conditions worsen in the coming weeks.
China’s response keeps rice price stable
Beijing has responded to the crisis with attempts to stabilize food prices and boost supply — including by tapping into strategic reserves of food.
Tens of millions of tons of rice, corn and soybeans have been released into the market in recent months by the China Grain Reserves Corp and the National Grain Trade Center, the two agencies that manage and sell state reserves of grain.
So far this year, the agencies have released more than 60 million tons of rice, about 50 million tons of corn, and over 760,000 tons of soybeans, already surpassing the volumes released during the whole of 2019.
Thanks to the release of those reserves, prices for rice have remained stable. Last week the average price of a ton of rice nationwide was 4,036 yuan ($580) per ton, roughly what it was a month ago, according to data from SCI.
China is also increasing imports — especially from the United States. Beijing committed to buying billions of dollars worth of American goods as part of a truce in the trade war agreed in January.
In the first six months of the year, China imported nearly 61 million tons of grain, up 21% from a year earlier, according to the most recently available Chinese customs data. Corn imports jumped 18% from a year ago, while purchases of soybeans and wheat also increased. The United States, Brazil, Ukraine and France were among the biggest exporters.
Some analysts, though, caution that China shouldn’t rely too much on overseas imports.
The trade relationship between Beijing and Washington, for example, could create uncertainty for China’s food supply chain should US authorities cut off or heavily tax those imports, according to analysts from Chinese research firm Tianfeng Securities. The United States exported more than 9 million tons of soybeans, roughly 100,000 tons of wheat, and nearly 65,000 tons of corn to China in the first half of 2020, making it a top trading partner, according to the most recently available Chinese customs data.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused some countries to suspend food exports, the Tianfeng Securities analysts added in a recent research note, creating more risks for food security in China.
The analysts suggested a few options for China to increase food production, including to loosen restrictions on the production of genetically modified crops. But they also acknowledged that at least in the short term, the country may have to import as much as it can before its trade relationships can deteriorate.
“China needs to put something away for a rainy day,” they said.
As for farmers like Bao, China has set aside some money for flood relief. As of mid-July, some 1.8 billion yuan ($258 million) had been allocated to help relocate people affected by the floods and rebuild ruined houses, among other measures, according to China’s Finance Ministry. The local government in Jiangxi province, where Bao lives, has also allocated 280 million yuan ($40 million) for flood relief.
But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $21 billion worth of economic damage the flooding has already inflicted.
“Yes, the government has subsidies, but it can’t really help much,” said Bao. His father has already left home to look for other jobs now that there’s no hope for another crop season this year. “Spreading it out for each person, there is not much left.”
A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown
5 min read
The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.
Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.
“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”
Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.
He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.
Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”
Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.
With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.
A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation.
Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”
He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.
As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.
Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.
Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.
He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”
Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”
Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.
Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.
“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”
Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”
But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”
The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”
He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”
He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”
GE: Industrial giant will stop building coal-fired power plants
In a dramatic reversal, one of the world’s biggest makers of coal-fired power plants is to exit the market and focus on greener alternatives.
US industrial giant General Electric said it would shut or sell sites as it prioritised its renewable energy and power generation businesses.
It comes ahead of a US Presidential election in which the candidates hold starkly different views on coal.
NGO the Natural Resources Defense Council said the move was “about time”.
GE has said in the past it would focus less on fossil fuels, reflecting the growing acceptance of cleaner energy sources in US power grids.
But just five years ago, it struck its biggest ever deal – paying almost £10bn for a business that produced coal-fuelled turbines.
In a statement, the firm suggested the decision had been motivated by economics.
Russell Stokes, GE’s senior vice president, said: “With the continued transformation of GE, we are focused on power generation businesses that have attractive economics and a growth trajectory.
“As we pursue this exit from the new build coal power market, we will continue to support our customers, helping them to keep their existing plants running in a cost-effective and efficient way with best-in-class technology and service expertise.”
US President Donald Trump has championed “beautiful, clean coal” at a time when other developed countries are turning away from polluting fossil fuels.
In a bid to revive the struggling US industry, Mr Trump has rolled back Obama-era standards on coal emissions. But it has not stopped the decline as cheaper alternatives such as natural gas, solar and wind gain market share.
GE said it would continue to service existing coal power plants, but warned jobs could be lost as a result of its decision.
The firm is already cutting up to 13,000 job cuts at GE Aviation, which makes jet engines, due to the pandemic.
In a tweet, the Natural Resources Defense Council said: “Communities and organizers have been calling on GE to get out of coal for years. This is an important and long overdue step in the right direction to protect communities’ health and the environment.”
China’s Xinjiang government confirms huge birth rate drop but denies forced sterilization of women
But CNN’s reporting found that some Uyghur women were being forced to use birth control and undergo sterilization as part of a deliberate attempt to push down birth rates among minorities in Xinjiang.
In its response, the Xinjiang government strongly denied the claims of genocide, arguing instead that the Uyghur population has been “growing continuously” during the past decade and that Zenz’s report was not “in line with the real situation in Xinjiang.”
According to the government, the population of Xinjiang rose by more than 3 million people, or almost 14%, between 2010 and 2018, with the Uyghur population growing faster than the region’s average rate.
“The rights and interests of Uyghur and other ethnic minorities have been fully protected,” the response said. “The so-called ‘genocide’ is pure nonsense.”
Birth rate plunges
But the government didn’t dispute the rise in sterilizations or the gap in the ratio of new intrauterine devices (IUDs) between Xinjiang and the rest of mainland China. While IUD implants have plunged in China overall, falling to just 21 per 100,000 people in 2018, in Xinjiang they are becoming increasingly common.
The Xinjiang government said in its response that the birth rate in the region had dropped from 15.88 per 1,000 people in 2017 to 10.69 per 1,000 people in 2018. The fax said that the drop was due to “the comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy.”
The Xinjiang government attributed the sudden drop in population to Beijing’s family planning policies finally being properly implemented in the region after 2017.
“In 2018, the number of newborns decreased by approximately 120,000 compared with 2017, of which about 80,000 were because of better implementation of family planning policy in accordance with law, according to estimates by the health and statistics department,” the response to CNN said. The government insisted that those who complied with the family planning policies did so voluntarily.
The government attributed the remaining 40,000 fewer babies to increased education and economic development, resulting in fewer children in the region. The Xinjiang government did not include the 2019 birth figures for the region.
“As a part of China, Xinjiang implements family planning policies in accordance with national laws and regulations, and has never formulated and implemented family planning policies for a single ethnic minority,” the response said.
But Zenz pointed out that changes to the natural birth rate should take place over several years or even a decade, not in the space of 12 to 36 months.
In reference to the government’s claims that compliance with the family planning policies were voluntary, Zenz questioned how likely it was that “17 times more women spontaneously wanted to be sterilized.”
“Han Chinese academics from Xinjiang have themselves written that the Uyghurs resist any type of contraceptive (and especially sterilization),” he said in a statement to CNN.
In their fax, the Xinjiang government also attacked Zenz personally, saying that he was “deliberately fabricating lies” and accused him of being a religious fanatic who believed he was “led by God” to oppose China.
Zenz dismissed the Chinese government’s allegations, saying they were “resorting to personal attacks” because they couldn’t disprove his research. “Far more egregious than these personal attacks on me are Beijing’s smears against the Uyghur witnesses,” he said in a statement.
Attacks on women
The Xinjiang government also zeroed in on claims made by two female Uyghurs quoted in CNN’s article — Zumrat Dawut and Gulbakhar Jalilova.
Dawut said she had been forced into sterilization by the local government in Xinjiang when she went to a government office to pay a fine for having one too many children. Dawut also said she had been in a detention center in Xinjiang for about three months from March 2018.
In their response, the government said that Dawut had never been inside a voluntary “education and training center,” the name used by the Chinese government for the alleged detention centers, and that she had signed a form agreeing to the procedure known as tubal ligation.
Jalilova claimed she suffered humiliation and torture while inside the camps and said she was raped by one of the guards.
The Xinjiang government confirmed Jalilova’s claims that she had been detained for 15 months from May 2017, alleging she was arrested “on suspicion of aiding terrorist activities.” In August 2018 she was released on bail, after which she returned to Kazakhstan.
In their statement, the government denied that Jalilova had been raped or tortured, saying that all of her “rights were fully guaranteed” and the staff who were in her cell could prove it.
When asked to respond to the Chinese government’s statement, Jalilova stood by her claims and demanded the Xinjiang authorities provide their proof. “Why don’t they show a video? Why don’t they show a photo during my time in prison showing that I was well fed and not beaten. The cameras were working 24 hours,” she said.
“I am a citizen of Kazakhstan, what right did they have to detain me for a year and a half?”
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