The great imperial struggles of the 1800s were over control of strategic or otherwise prized resources, and the hostilities they generated helped stoke World Wars I and II. Many believe the Iraq war was all about oil.
China is considering adopting a contemporary variant of the colonial model. A Ministry of Agriculture proposal suggests that rather than conquer territory to secure needed farmland, it could simply buy it up. But this path proves likes to engender resistance from the locals in countries with
conquered occupied investee sites. This might work if done quietly, with local players acting as fronts. But this program will have to be very large scale to achieve its desired aims, which is improving food security, which makes keeping a low profile well nigh impossible.
And does China really think it can export food from large tracts of land abroad if the natives are hungry? There are major risks, such as governments asserting eminent domain to repatriate property and sabotage of transport.
China is concentrating its efforts on Africa and South America. In many areas, the control of the central government is weak. Will China wind up employing local mercenaries to secure its interests? It will be interesting to watch this initiative play out.
From the Financial Times:
Chinese companies will be encouraged to buy farmland abroad, particularly in Africa and South America, to help guarantee food security under a plan being considered by Beijing.
A proposal drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture would make supporting offshore land acquisition by domestic agricultural companies a central government policy. Beijing already has similar policies to boost offshore investment by state-owned banks, manufacturers and oil companies, but offshore agricultural investment has so far been limited to a few small projects.
If approved, the plan could face intense opposition abroad given surging global food prices and deforestation fears. However an official close to the deliberations said it was likely to be adopted…..
The move comes as oil-rich but food-poor countries in the Middle East and north Africa explore similar options….
China has about 40 per cent of the world’s farmers but just 9 per cent of the world’s arable land….China is still a net exporter of agricultural commodities but is increasingly reliant on soybean imports and is about to become a net buyer of corn…..
Some countries would find it particularly problematic if Beijing supported Chinese firms to use Chinese labour on land bought or rented abroad – common practice for most companies operating overseas.