With the U.S.-China trade war heating up, Beijing has ramped up its propaganda against the Trump administration by targeting American farmers. Meanwhile, China’s focus on developing Brazil as an alternative soybean supplier is raising serious environmental concerns.
The propaganda article was published in Iowa’s Des Moines Register, the biggest selling newspaper in the state. It focused on President Xi Jinping’s long history with Iowa and how the state has benefitted from trade with China. The article states that even though U.S. agricultural exports to Beijing have soared by 700 percent since 2000, new trade policies have forced China to look to South America for crops like soybeans.
Iowa, a strong supporter of Trump’s conservative politics, has been one of the most affected states since Beijing imposed tariffs on U.S. soybean imports. “I think they’re very aware of where the red and the blue states are… I think China believes that if the Democrats were to take hold of at least the House, the president would be easier to work with,” Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association, said to the Des Moines Register.
Political experts and intelligence agencies had anticipated that the Chinese would try to influence public opinion against the current U.S. administration once the trade war intensified. The Des Moines propaganda made Trump lash out at China for trying to erode his support base in Iowa.
“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election, coming up in November, against my administration… They do not want me, or us, to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade. We don’t want to them to meddle or interfere in our upcoming election,” President Trump had said in a UN Security Council meeting, according to CBS News.
Brazil’s soybean production and environmental impact
With China vehemently against U.S. soybeans, Beijing is hoping that Brazil can somehow satisfy its domestic demand. “As for now, it seems like a match made in heaven — China needs Brazil’s soybeans and other commodities and Brazil, just starting to emerge from its worst economic period in history in which GDP contracted by more than 7 percent in a two-year period, needs Chinese investment to spark its struggling economy,” according to World Grain.
However, China’s interest in Brazilian soybeans has environmental groups worried. European countries tend to observe strict environmental norms when it comes to importing crops from Latin America. If the supplier is found to have deforested land to produce the crops, Europe initiates counteractions. This ensures that countries like Brazil do not engage in large-scale deforestation just to grow more crops. But China does not seem to have such environmental considerations when importing from Brazil.
“China is very concerned with the food security of its population… They are much less concerned with environmental problems in other countries. What they do not want is to be involved with any illegal activity,” Arnaldo Carneiro, Director of the Supply Chains Programme at the environmental organization Global Canopy, said to China Dialogue.
Unfortunately, clearing out forests is not exactly an illegal activity. As such, there are many that fear the Brazilian government might end up getting seduced by China’s huge appetite for soybeans and agree to deforest large areas of the country.