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Does China offer the world more than the US?

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It may look like a shadow play at a distance. On May 21, the American Trump administration issued its first “policy paper” outlining a comprehensive approach to China, calling for a coordinated international strategy in defense of the shared value system threatened by Beijing. The following day, Beijing ignored the paper and gave small attention to the US, calling at the plenary session of its annual parliament for a return to the origins of its development, the countryside.

Here, in the rural areas, the long process of reform and opening-up began. Four decades ago over 90% of Chinese were employed in agriculture, but today rural China is home to less than 40% of the population, some half a billion people.

In his presentation of the government’s work report, Premier Li Keqiang asked to “increase the area for high-quality farmland, recover the [recently lowered] production of hogs, the rice bag, and the ‘vegetable basket’… We will fully implement the system of provincial governors assuming responsibility for the ‘rice bag’ and city mayors for the vegetable basket… It is imperative, and it is well within our ability, to ensure the food supply for 1.4 billion Chinese people through our own efforts.”

China at long last got cold feet about the swine fever ravaging the countryside and killing over half of its pig population – that is, eliminating one-quarter of all the pork in the world. Moreover, with the new chill in the international political atmosphere, Beijing is apparently beginning to worry about its food production, which is heavily dependent on imports. Unwilling to trust the international market, Beijing is trying to secure its domestic food supply.

One tactic is to increase productivity. “We will support the development of appropriately scaled agricultural operations, and improve commercial services for farmers,” Li said, without explaining whether farmland will be privatized or given to public companies.

Another change will be a system to support rural workers who become unemployed in urban areas, i.e., the so-called “floating population” who move from urban to rural areas following job demand. A pension system for the elderly in rural areas will be instituted for the first time in China’s history, allowing farmers to receive unemployment benefits and pensions in return for tilling the soil.

Premier Li refrained from aggressive rhetoric against Taiwan, saying Beijing will talk to Taiwan residents, and “encourage them to join us in opposing Taiwan independence and promoting China’s reunification.”

China then avoided directly responding to the stern words of the Trump administration’s first comprehensive report on its new approach to Beijing.

US shadow play

The White House policy paper pledged to “improve the resiliency of our institutions, alliances, and partnerships to prevail against the challenges the PRC presents; and second, to compel Beijing to cease or reduce actions harmful to the United States’ vital, national interests and those of our allies and partners. Even as we compete with the PRC, we welcome cooperation where our interests align. Competition need not lead to confrontation or conflict. The United States has a deep and abiding respect for the Chinese people and enjoys longstanding ties to the country. We do not seek to contain China’s development, nor do we wish to disengage from the Chinese people. The United States expects to engage in fair competition with the PRC, whereby both of our nations, businesses, and individuals can enjoy security and prosperity.”

The White House paper maintained that prevailing in strategic competition with China requires cooperation in academia, civil society, the private sector and local governments.

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