“We want to bring American sunshine, land and water back to China.” (1)

Why would a Chinese business man whose company is growing alfalfa in Utah say, “We want to bring American sunshine, land and water back to China”?  The statement captures the essence of China’s wide-spread, environmental problems — smog-choked air, contaminated soils, and polluted water.  China, for many years, has inflicted serious damage to all of its renewable resources – air, soil, water, vegetation, and wildlife.  Now, rather than address the needed repairs, they have chosen to move part of their agricultural activities to other countries where environmental conditions are far better. China hopes that by doing so, it will be able to continue to feed its massive population.

China has not only polluted its environment but it has largely ignored its own environmental laws (2).  Satellite technology and scientific analyses confirm that China’s polluted air not only covers large parts of  China but that it also produces harmful effects as it moves across international borders (3).  Degraded land is not a new issue for China, nevertheless it is a pervasive one and involves damage to all parts of their renewable resources (4).  China continues with its massive rural-to-urban migration plan designed to have one billion of its 1.39 billion population living in its cities by 2035.  China’s plan is to increase the consumer population in the cities and thereby boost China’s economy (5). Yet, China has done little analysis of the consequences on its renewable resources from concentrating one billion people in its cities.

The United States, like many other nations, views agriculture and its associated renewable resources, in fact, as “renewable,” not merely something to be mined and then abandoned.  China also has professional, competent agriculturalists who understand how to improve degraded lands (6).  It seems though that short-term, narrowly focused, economic decisions by China’s leaders override wise, long-term, agricultural and renewable-resource decisions.

Decision-making power is concentrated in China’s, seven-member, Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), and secondly in the 25 member Politburo according to Cheng Li (7). His data show that technocrats constituted 100 percent of the PSC membership in 1999 and 73 percent of the Politburo, but that by 2012, the PSC only had 14 percent technocrats and the Politburo 16 percent (7). He wonders  whether the change in members’ occupational  and education backgrounds, i.e. from technical to non-technical, will make a difference in the decisions these bodies make.  I monitored the digital international-edition of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post daily from 1999 to 2012 to determine the condition of the renewable resources in South China and adjacent parts. The survey shows little or no evidence that the condition of renewable resources improved during this period but rather that conditions over the eleven years probably worsened (2).  The information in my survey when combined with Cheng Li’s data suggest that the change in the PSC and the Politburo from mostly technocrats to mostly non-technocrats , has made little difference in how or whether China addresses its renewable-resource problems.

American laws for the sale or lease of agricultural land to foreigners is complicated and will not be addressed here.  [For background information on this topic, see (8).] What seems more important is for Americans to know why China wants to establish agricultural production in the U.S. in the first place and, secondly, that China’s interest in obtaining U.S. agricultural land is taking place while China is doing little to repair the productivity of its own damaged and degraded lands.  There is no convincing evidence that China will discontinue the activities that are known to be responsible for damaging their renewable resources and, in turn, adversely affecting China’s agricultural productivity.

And lastly, even if U.S. agricultural lands were purchased for China’s use, what might be a fair price to charge for the clean, U.S. air, soils, and water that produced the crops?  Chinese decision makers are  aware of the poor state of their home environment yet they allow the situation to persist or worsen  while they search for greener pastures elsewhere in the world.

Walter Parham, Ph.D., April 21, 2014

References cited:

(1)  “China invests in farms overseas as development and pollution threatens its fields,” South China Morning Post, Los Angeles Times in Beijing, April 4, 2014, 5 p.

(2)  “Consequences of China’s failure to implement its policies and enforce its laws to protect the land, water, and air: 1999-2012 overview,”  W.E. Parham, 2012, https://southchinaenvir.com/

(3)  “China’s smog and North Korea’s environment and food security,”  W.E. Parham, 2013, http://southchinaenviron.com/

(4)  “A view of South China degraded-land issues,” W.E. Parham, 2009, https://southchinaenvir.com/

(5)  “China’s rapid, rural-to-urban migration, and its renewable-resource issues,”  W.E. Parham, 2014, https://southchinaenvir.com/

(6)  “Improving degraded lands: promising experiences from South China,” 1993, Bishop Museum Bull. in Botany 3, Honolulu, Hawaii, 243 p., eds., W.E. Parham, P.J. Durana, and A.L. Hess.

(7)  “A biographical and factional analysis of the post-2012 Politburo,” June 6, 2013, Cheng Li, Brookings Institution, China Leadership Monitor, no. 41, 17 p.

(8)  “Foreign investment in the United States: major federal statutory restrictions,”  June 17, 2013, M.V. Seitzinger, Congressional Research Service, 18 p.


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