China asks families to stock up daily necessities, triggers speculation

A notice published by China’s commerce ministry comes in the backdrop of heavy rains in October that caused widespread flooding and damage to crops including in the province of Shandong, China’s biggest vegetable growing area.
Vegetables rot in water logged fields months after torrential rain flooded the region of Zhaoguo village in central China’s Henan province on October 22, 2021. China has asked families to stock up daily necessities, triggering speculation. (AP)
Vegetables rot in water logged fields months after torrential rain flooded the region of Zhaoguo village in central China’s Henan province on October 22, 2021. China has asked families to stock up daily necessities, triggering speculation. (AP)
Updated on Nov 02, 2021 09:41 PM IST
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BySutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda

The Chinese government has asked families to stock up daily necessities in case of emergencies and directed authorities to maintain adequate food supplies, sparking online speculation on the possible reasons behind the directive.

The unusual notice published by China’s commerce ministry comes in the backdrop of heavy rains in October that caused widespread flooding and damage to crops including in the province of Shandong, China’s biggest vegetable growing area.

Adding to concerns of food supply shortages and increase in prices is the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to some lockdowns and intra-provincial travel restrictions across 14 provinces including in the capital, Beijing.

A notice posted by the commerce ministry on Monday evening urged “families to store a certain amount of daily necessities as needed to meet daily life and emergencies”.

The commerce ministry directive made no mention of an ongoing food shortage or of whether the instructions were motivated by fears that anti-Covid measures could disrupt supply chains or leave locked-down citizens in need of food.

Soon after the directive was issued by the ministry on Monday evening, netizens speculated on Chinese social media whether it could be linked to heightened tension with self-governing island, Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway region and has not ruled out using force to reunite it.

The news was trending on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Tuesday.

One Weibo user wrote: “You didn’t tell us to stock up when the pandemic broke out in 2020. This is the first time that such a reminder has been issued. A little scared…countries don’t publish scary news like this unless they have to.”

In response, the Economic Daily, a Communist Party China (CPC)-backed newspaper, told netizens not to have “too much of an overactive imagination” and that the directive’s purpose was to make sure citizens were not caught off guard if there was a lockdown in their area.

“In the long run it (the notice) is also to advocate residents to improve their awareness of emergency management and increase the necessary household emergency commodities reserves as a necessary supplement to the national emergency response system,” the Economic Daily article said.

The commerce ministry directed the authorities to track the supply, demand and price changes of daily necessities including vegetables and meat, and issue early warnings if necessary.

The notice said local authorities should strengthen and optimise emergency distribution networks for daily necessities.

It added that at places where “closed management measures” for Covid-19 prevention were implemented, the authorities should promptly announce the source and contact information of the relevant supply network.

China kept infection numbers low through a Covid-zero strategy of border closures, targeted lockdowns and long quarantine periods.

It is increasingly adopting tough measures even to contain a handful of cases - though infections have been detected in several provinces - like in the latest outbreak, especially ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on February 4, 2022.

Besides the pandemic disrupting the supply chain, China has been hit hard by unusually heavy rains and flooding in the last two years especially in the central and eastern provinces.

China also plans to release vegetable reserves “at an appropriate time” to counter rising prices, according to a state TV report late on Monday, quoted by Reuters.

It is not clear which vegetables China holds in reserves and how big those reserves are.

The state planning body has called for the timely replanting of vegetables, urging local governments to support fast-growing produce, according to the report.

Average wholesale prices of 28 kinds of vegetables in October were up 16% from the previous month, state media reported on Monday, citing government numbers.

Currently, China has about 100 million mu (6.7 million hectares) planted with vegetables, the agriculture ministry was quoted by Reuters as saying.

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Sunday, December 05, 2021