Wars between countries are often preceded by trade wars, which can be in turn preceded by attempts to seek an advantage over the other.
Right now, the US and China are in a series of below-the-surface trade wars where the US, using her position as the world’s reserve currency, has created a tremendous trade deficit with China for which China has not received payment. As the US can print any amount of money to service her debts, the Chinese have been reduced to the position of a debtor instead of a creditor, for while the US has debt, she can either simply refuse to pay China with the Chinese having no way of enforcing collection, or she can crash her own currency by printing all the money to service her debts, pay China in then-worthless dollars, then blame the Chinese for “destroying the US economy” so she can justify military action against her.
Additionally, China is in a terribly weak position due to a lack of food as a result of poor agricultural management and a history of short-term thinking. China is forced to rely on foreign countries, especially the US, to import a majority of her food, and in particular two critical products, which are soy and pork. Given that the US produces 37% and 16% of soy and pork for the entire world respectively, she is forced at some level to buy from her even though she constantly makes public threats that she does not want to and cannot wait for the day when she can divest herself from the US.
I have written a full analysis of the “pork-and-soy” politics of Sino-US relations here that serves as a primer for understanding the current moves taking place. Therefore, it is with great interest that I have seen a report from the German Bild newspaper that Germany is now suffering from an epidemic of African Swine Fever.
Less than three weeks ago, the shock announcement that the African swine fever (ASP) in Poland is only 80 kilometers from the border with Germany. Now it is only 42 kilometers.
Experts believe that it is only a matter of time before the animal epidemic breaks out in Germany.
Although the disease is safe for humans. It only affects pigs. But for livestock farmers and factory farming, the virus is an economic disaster.
The fear of the farmers is that wild boars could transmit the plague to domestic pigs. Then affected livestock would have to be killed completely.
While everything is then disinfected and shut off in such an operation, a spread among wild boars is hard to stop. To do this, all animals killed in the plague would have to be found and eliminated. Hardly possible in the wild!
In mid-November, African swine fever first broke out in western Poland. In the region around the settlements Nowa Sol and Slawa, dozens of dead boars have been found. Distance to Germany: 80 kilometers.
Last Monday, the county seat Zielona Gora (Grünberg) had closed the forests for people. There were four dead wild boars were discovered with the virus – about 60 kilometers from the border with Germany.
Throughout Poland, the virus has been detected in up to 2020 wild boars and 48 domestic swine. The German Hunting Association (DJV) calls on hunters to report suspicious carcasses immediately to the authorities.
In Denmark, the fear of African swine fever is so great that the country built a 70 kilometer long and 1.50 meter high anti-boar fence along the border with Germany. Construction time: ten months! Cost: six million euros!
But experts expect that the virus could also be imported by humans to Denmark. The swine fever is extremely resistant, even in meat and sausage.In some cases, a discarded sandwich bread with salami may be enough for an infected pig to eat a wild boar – and the virus is already in the country! (source)
According to the reports, the fever supposedly came in by way of Poland to Germany staring in June, although no further details were given. Recent news reports say that in Poland, the fever has killed at least 20 wild boar, with unknown numbers of pigs affected, be they either domestic or wild.
The economic impacts of the pork fever have already been felt across the world, but as I have said before, the difference between the West and China is that the West is filled with food whereas China needs the food. What becomes a minor inconvenience to the West could result in a massive famine or even a revolution in China, as hungry people generally do not make for good, obedient, patriotic citizens regardless of the historical period.
For example, German media has reported that there will likely be a “schnitzel shortage” this year, and sausage will be more expensive in Germany as well as all pork-based products throughout Europe and the US. By comparison, Chinese restaurants are facing the possibility of closure, and the government is considering this to be a major crisis since there is ‘not enough pork in the world’ to feed Chinese demand.
Some 40% of Chinese pigs – hundreds of millions of animals – have now been lost, and the result has been a chronic shortage of pork and rocketing prices. The Chinese government has been forced to dig into its gigantic emergency reserves of frozen meat.
“The producer price has risen 125% since July,” said Rupert Claxton of international food consultancy Girafood. That increase has helped drive up China’s inflation rate, which in October broke through the government target of 3% to hit 3.8%.
Zhu Zhenchun, a restaurateur in Shenzhen, south-east China, told the Observer: “We’re spending about 10,000 yuan more a month just because of the price increase. [That is the equivalent of monthly salaries for two restaurant employees.] Everyone knows this is a problem now. Everyone is hoping the price will come down either before or just after Chinese New Year. If it doesn’t, that could make some people think differently about their businesses.” (source)
Thus far, one quarter of all pigs in the world have died, and of those raised in China, that nation alone has lost 50% of her supply of pork. China is now being forced to rely on pork imports from the West, and given that 80% of the world’s pork products come from either the US or Europe, in particular Western Europe. With the US as the highest producer at 16.1%, but Germany is a close second at 15.5%, Spain at 14.2%, and Denmark at 9.2%, and now that this fever is spreading to Europe, how many more pigs will die and how much higher will the price of pork go up?
We know that the US has been building up her military presence in Poland for a long time and continues to do so. Likewise, the article also notes that Denmark is concerned about this fever spreading to her nation from Germany. While there is nothing to definitively state as fact, one must wonder that as pork is critical to food and political stability of China, that there are rising US tensions with China as she has been waging a proxy conflict against them through the protests in Hong Kong, could the spread of this fever be not just a natural phenomenon, but something planned that is intended to weaken China?
The possibility of another mass starvation in China should not be ruled out. This is not to state that such will happen as a result of a pork shortage, but rather to acknowledge that mass famines many times are caused by political actions exploiting natural or manufactured conditions (such as the Irish Potato Famine and the Holodomor). China already has a history of famine, so what is to say that the past could not repeat itself?
It will be interesting to see the developments in the pork markets, as well as to see if a similar disease or perhaps, trade agreements are made between the US and China concerning soy or other natural assets critical for maintaining national stability.