Washington has criticised China’s imports of vital grain that could be used for global humanitarian needs as the United Nations (UN) brokered a deal to resume Ukraine’s supplies of wheat and other cereals.
China’s grain stocks at the end of the 2021/22 season were estimated by the International Grains Council to be 323.4 million tonnes, more than half the global total of 607.4 million.
They dwarf those of the US, the world’s top grain exporter, which were estimated at 57.8 million tonnes.
“China has been a very active buyer of grain and it is stockpiling grain… at a time when hundreds of millions of people are entering the catastrophic phase of food insecurity,” said James O’Brien, head of the US State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination.
O’Brien said 40% of the first grain shipments out of Ukraine in April went to China. “It would have been much better to see that grain going to Egypt, in the Horn of Africa and other places.”
The Chinese embassy in Washington said that China imports a certain amount of grain and maintains reserves because it has less than 9% of the world’s farmland but it accounts for one fifth of the world’s population.
“We contribute actively to tackling global food security issues,” said embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu.
The US said it wants to see China help combat the global food crisis, “We would like to see it act like the great power that it is and provide more grain to the poor people around the world,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and Moscow’s February 24 invasion of its neighbour sent food prices soaring, stoking a global food crisis the UN World Food Programme (WFP) says has pushed some 47 million people into “acute hunger.”
“We would like to see [China] play more of a role of making the grain available from their own stockpiles and by allowing the WFP and others to obtain grain,” said O’Brien.
Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on Friday to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports. The war has stalled Kyiv’s exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington hopes the deal “will help mitigate the crisis Russia has caused,” adding that “we will be watching closely to ensure that Russia actually follows through”.
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