Nature has always been one of the most revered cosmic aspects in classical Chinese culture. It is the scenario of the interaction of the forces that govern the relationship between Heaven and Earth, and human beings.

And it is also the source of sustenance and social stability. In this sense, Chinese civilization took care of it and obtained the desired fruits for millennia.

But the disruption implemented by Beijing in the delicate balance of nature implies a high risk for the livelihood of the people.

The economy of the country is also in jeopardy, as is the very permanence of the Chinese regime.  

Land ownership in China

The Chinese regime motivated many farmers in its first years of establishment. It initially expropriated land from some two million landowners and distributed it among the peasants.

The system then forced the farmers to join associations and to work in state collectives, making state ownership of land a non-negotiable policy.

Since then, this policy has led to widespread stagnation. One of the effects is that in the 40 years, between 1978 and 2018, urban incomes almost tripled those of rural residents. 

It is to be considered that in 2018, the Chinese economy recorded its slowest growth in 28 years. In 2014, the Chinese regime stated that about 20% of the country’s agricultural land is contaminated. 

This situation compromises half of the country’s 1.44 billion population and limits its possibilities for progress. Despite the fact that agriculture is considered a necessary engine for potential national growth.

Indeed, Chinese leader Xi Jinping emphasized in a speech delivered in early 2019 that: “if the countryside flourishes, the country flourishes. But if the countryside wanes, the country wanes.”

Xi has insisted several times on this aspect, but without major changes being made.

Thus, Beijing’s lack of attention to rural areas leads to land degradation, soil erosion, deforestation, and deterioration of pastures.

The good use of agricultural land is also undermined by non-agricultural and urban constructions, which occupy arable land.

A brief look at the poor results of this season’s wheat harvest could be taken as an indication of the shortcomings, that ultimately lead to land management problems.

In this context, Tang Renjian (唐仁健), Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the Chinese regime, said that the harvest of first and second quality wheat was reduced by more than 20%.

Unusually heavy rains in 2021, which delayed the planting of nearly a third of the regular wheat acreage, were one of the causes. 

Tang said, “This year’s grain production indeed faces huge difficulties. Not long ago, we went to the grassroots to do a survey, and many farming experts and technicians told us that crop conditions this year could be the worst in history.”

Civil disobedience

The meager results obtained by the production system governed by state collectives forced 18 farmers in the village of Xiaogang, in the Chinese province of Anhui, in 1978, to defy the system. They returned to the way of cultivating the land that had been used for millennia in the country.

They dissolved the farming collective and divided their farmland into individual plots that they could cultivate according to ancestral criteria. The results of that first harvest were astonishing because they were six times higher than those obtained previously. 

Part of the experience is recounted by the farmer, Yan Junchang, who led that risky act of civil disobedience. He said that happened because the collective system was not working, despite their efforts. 

“But we had no strength and enthusiasm to work in the collective fields due to hunger. We even didn’t have time because we were always being organized by governmental work teams who taught us politics,” Junchang stated

In that case, the villagers were lucky not to be repressed; the party chief of Anhui province supported them and promoted their results. He made it possible for the new way of cultivating the land to spread throughout the country.

The impact was such that it boosted the country’s economy in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, the conflict between population and land in China remains as a result of high population density, and decreasing availability of arable land. Also, because of overgrazing, an inability to afford imported grain, and expanding land use for urbanization.

Author Yuen Cai postulates some problems of ineffective land management by the government system. He includes the lack of an economic means to guide the use of land and the fact that land is not valued. As well as the lack of mechanisms to ensure the economical use of land.

He also argues the lack of integration of administrative departments in decision-making and the intervention of many departments that dispose of the same land. He observed the lack of choice in the use of land, and the absence of adequate investment to promote short-term exploitation.

In parallel, Yuen proposes land tenure reform and establishing a balance between land expenditure and productivity. He recommends expanding and conserving forest areas, increasing agricultural investment, along with land tenure reform.

Also, adjust land product prices, strengthen land management, develop other industries, and reform economic and political systems.

In practice, many Chinese farmers are obligated to grow cereals as part of the country’s drive for food security, but the benefits barely cover the costs.

Despite repeated promises from Beijing to fix the lagging countryside by implementing reforms, the economic gap between town and city remains disproportionately wide.

In this context, for many analysts, the key point is that farmers cannot own land. This policy was followed since the early years of the communist revolution.

As a result, peasants cannot buy, sell or rent plots of land to create economically viable larger tracts. They can’t use the land as collateral for loans, which makes them unable to raise capital.

Additionally, although they can leave the land and migrate to the cities, they cannot use the land as collateral to finance such moves, because of the lack of property rights.

The narrowness of the landholdings is such that the Dai family, living in Shijiachong village, Hunan, is an example of the current situation. Its 10 members own a tractor and a car but still live in an old farmhouse built more than 40 years ago.

The family has only 2.8 hectares (seven acres) of land to farm, which, according to Dai, would be enough for one person.

He added that his family would be happy to rent or sell their land, but the Chinese regime does not allow them to do so.

A family member would have to migrate to the city and send remittances, to earn additional income.

Another case is that of Zhu Chanyue, a 40-year-old woman, who spent 20 years in the Chinese coastal region. There she was working her way up by running a roadside fast food stall and then making money in real estate investments.

After getting rich, in 2017, Zhu returned to her hometown with her husband and daughter to be closer to her family and try her hand at farming. She applied the land transfer system allowed by the system, and worked on more than 200 hectares (500 acres) of land, planting watermelon, wheat, and rice.

After much effort, she concluded, “There’s no point boasting.” Adding, “I made a lot of money in real estate but lost it all in agriculture.” 

She explained, “If you want to do something on a large scale you need capital,” but she was unable to get it to mechanize the farm. “So basically the work here is still done by hand,” she added in disappointment. 

In this regard, Stanford University professor in California, Jean Oi, noted, “Land ownership is one of these tough issues that they still haven’t addressed,” adding, “The question is when, or if, they’ll tackle it,” referring to possible decisions by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on this crisis.

Contradictory land purchases in other countries

The CCP’s land policy is contradictory, given that with the great shortcomings in the management of the country’s agricultural land under its charge, it has turned to buy land abroad. 

In fact, the media Nikkei Asia drew attention to Beijing’s land purchases abroad, with the headline “Chinese companies corralling land around world. Acquisition of nearly 6.5 million hectares over 10 years sets off alarms,” on July 20, 2021. The article sums up the international concern about these acquisitions.

To get an idea of the equivalence of this extension, let’s consider that it is an area equal to that of Lithuania. This is a European country whose territorial extension is ranked 124th among the 220 countries and territories listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The United States owns a little more than half of that area in overseas countries. 

These lands, now Chinese-owned, were purchased only between 2011 and 2020, and are devoted to agriculture, forestry, and mining. The investment in agricultural land was also extended to 48 countries as part of the Belt and Road project, during the period 2008-to 2016. 

These purchases exceed those of any other country. The concerns generated by land grabbing lie in the fact that in addition to representing an eventual military threat, they could also threaten the food stability of the nations that cede their territories.

Acquiring land abroad provides these CCP-linked companies with stable access to natural resources as supplies dwindle around the world.

In this regard, Himeji University professor Hideki Hirano warns, “Regulations should be further tightened to prevent the uncontrolled corralling of land,” referring to tracts of land that pass into the hands of foreign countries. 

Japan is one of the few countries that has taken legal measures to curb the acquisition of sensitive territories in its country.

In addition to real estate legally obtained by companies and individuals from China, these entities gain power over other lands through individuals who hold the nationality of the country in which they are located.

A person connected to Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency comments: “There are cases of land owned nominally by Japanese citizens, but which are backed by Chinese entities,” the source said.  

According to reports from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board, investment in Australian real estate from China declined from its peak of nearly $32 billion in 2015-16 to $7.1 billion in 2019-20.

Chinese companies engaged in the real estate business are also threatened by internal corruption. A sign of this was the disappearance of China Fortune Land’s overseas money manager, along with $313 million, Yicai Global reported, in December. 

China Fortune Land Development Co. Ltd. is a Beijing-based, publicly-traded Chinese real estate developer. This company also lost $628 million in the third quarter. Moreover, it failed to repay a $530 million bond in March.

China’s largest acquisitions have been made in Asia and Africa, where critics believe that the food security of people in the intervened countries is endangered. 

According to the Central Africa Research Institute, Beijing owns some 253,000 hectares of land in several African nations; which is three times the amount of land it owns in the United States.

In the United States alone, the 2013 purchase of Smithfield Foods by China’s Shuanghui, now called WH Group, caused concern about intervention in U.S. food systems. 

WH Group now owns the largest U.S. pork producer, as well as more than 59,000 hectares of Missouri farmland, noted the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank, in September 2021. 

In this transaction, some congressmen warned of the Chinese regime’s involvement in the purchase. 

Also, an amendment to the Department of Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration spending bill prohibits the purchase of farmland located in the United States by Chinese companies.

In addition, Chinese holdings in the U.S. have increased “more than tenfold in less than a decade.” This causes alarm, as the motivations behind China’s strategic interest in U.S. farmland are unclear.

China now buys more residential real estate in the United States than any other country. It now accounts for 25% of all foreign investment in housing in the country. Canada accounts for 9% of U.S. residential foreign investment. In 2018, some 40,000 properties were purchased by Chinese individuals or entities.  

As for the Belt and Road project, while the land tapped for infrastructure projects is not “owned” by the CCP, the debt acquired by developing countries and Europeans gives the CCP control over it.

It should be noted that other projects are being executed in South America, and an increasing amount of Chinese investment is pouring into Europe. 

CCP international conflicts by territory

Another of the Chinese regime’s activities that occupy a large part of its resources is the international conflicts it maintains with at least 19 countries. In addition, it generates antipathy and rejection on a global scale.  

Beijing’s territorial disputes on land and sea affect the sovereignty of Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, Brunei, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Thailand. 

Apart from these countries, Russia ceded the Argun, Amur, and Ussuri rivers, the Zhenbao Island (or Damansky Island), and Bear Island (also known as Bolshoi Ussurisky or Heixiazi Dao), and countless other lands, to conclude with the claims of the CCP. 

As the main causes for these disputes, ancient historical antecedents are considered, and as author Shreya Mundhra points out, “Lastly, a hunt for resources and the ambition to portray itself as a hegemon in the region is a potential reason behind China’s perennial territorial disputes.”

Although in its disputes, the Chinese regime alludes to China’s history to claim territorial rights, it ignores that the glorious empire of the past became great while respecting the guidelines emanating from the gods for the care of nature, for the benefit of man.  

Finally, the conflicting and contradictory context that the CCP constantly faces, both inside and outside the country, makes analysts look to its leaders for answers, in particular the top leader, Xi Jinping. 

In this regard, author Mike O’Sullivan, in one of his articles published in Forbes this week, notes the trend toward decline in the populous eastern country, and points out presciently with respect to Xi, who has ruled since 2012, “He should bear in mind that for all the years the Roman Empire endured, the average ‘term’ of a Roman emperor was only just over five years, seventy percent of them dying of ‘unnatural” causes.

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