China is encouraging families to fill up on food as supply challenges increase

The country’s Ministry of Commerce issued a statement late Monday urging local governments to urge people to stock up on “daily necessities”, including vegetables, oils and poultry, to “meet the needs of daily life and emergencies.”

The agency also urged local authorities to ensure people have an “adequate supply” of essential items this winter for next spring. And it told these authorities to keep prices stable – a source of anxiety in recent weeks as the price of vegetables has risen across China due to unusually heavy rainfall that has damaged crops.

China has previously stressed the importance of providing food and other daily supplies – including in September, ahead of a major week-long holiday period. But these statements are usually very overtly intended for local authorities to read, and rarely catch the attention of ordinary citizens. However, the inclusion of languages ​​in this statement, which mentions families, seems to put people on edge.

The sudden warning on Tuesday sent shock waves through Chinese social media as many people speculated in the Ministry of Commerce’s reasoning.
The government “did not even ask us to have goods in stock when the Covid eruption broke out in early 2020,” wrote a Weibo user who responded to the news.
Another speculated that authorities reminded people that they “may not be able to afford vegetables this winter.”
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The reaction was so strong that some in the Chinese state media tried to allay concerns. Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, rejected proposals that the announcement could be linked to rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei. China regards Taiwan as an “inseparable part” of its territory, even though the Chinese Communist Party has never ruled the autonomous island.
The state-owned Economic Daily, meanwhile, wrote on Tuesday that authorities were trying to remind families to prepare in the event of temporary shutdowns caused by Covid-19.

And the state broadcaster CCTV said the part of the announcement that urged families to fill up on necessities had been “read over”. It also published an interview with Zhu Xiaoliang, an official in the Ministry of Commerce, who said that daily supplies for people are adequate and can be “completely guaranteed.” Zhu added that the message was intended for local authorities.

China has maintained a rigorous zero-Covid policy, although countries around the world are gradually opening up and learning to live with coronavirus. The world’s second largest economy is determined to completely eradicate the virus within its borders and has implemented strict restrictions to stop outbreaks, including stopping high-speed trains and quarantining passengers and changing traffic lights to red to discourage traffic in one county, where a single case was notified.

China’s strict measures even went viral over the weekend after a single confirmed case of coronavirus sent Shanghai Disneyland into a zipper. Crowds in a video were shown queuing in front of makeshift test sites while health workers in fully personal protective equipment (PPE) watched.

Nationwide efforts to curb coronavirus cases may contribute in part to rising food costs, according to Wang Hongcun, an official at the Beijing Municipal Commerce Bureau. He said last week at press conference that the cost of cross-regional transit may increase due to strict containment measures.

Wang added that the prices of some vegetables in the country’s capital had risen 50% or more in October.

But there are other factors that contribute to the increase. A widespread coal shortage has made greenhouse operation more expensive by pushing up the cost of heat and electricity. And extreme weather has damaged crops in large agricultural provinces.

The Ministry of Trade on Monday urged local authorities to prepare for winter by signing long-term contracts with suppliers of agricultural products as well as buying vegetables that can be stored.

Beijing has taken other recent measures that appear to target food security. On Monday, the government unveiled an “action plan” urging people not to order more food than they need and to report restaurants wasting food – a measure similar to a campaign led by President Xi Jinping last year when the coronavirus pandemic and extreme floods threatened food supply chains.

And in April, China passed a law allowing restaurants to charge an extra fee for diners to leave “excessive” leftovers on their plates. The law also punishes people who make or share videos about binge eating, with fines of up to 100,000 yuan (about $ 15,000).

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