The Chinese market has become the Wild West of — well, everything, including U.S. agricultural exports. Wheat, wine, soybeans; just haul the goods down to the wharf and Chinese buyers are sure to start poking about. Chairman Mao is probably doing somersaults in the grave at the prospect of China going gangbusters for U.S. rice.
In 2010, China quietly became the No. 1 export market for U.S. agriculture. OK, not exactly the fall of the Great Wall on the news scale, but having a nation with 1.3 billion stomachs as your top food customer was worth about $17.5 billion in 2011. The “forbidden city” tag can be formally peeled off of Beijing and stuck on Havana.
The possibility of maintaining and expanding ag trade with China looks genuine. Investment jitters, economic rumblings, demographic decline and total abandonment of human rights aside: business is looking up. Time to tread softly and sell some more grain while the getting is good.
Definitely not the time to send 2,500 U.S. marines to man a base in northern Australia — conveniently close to the South China Sea. China and its neighbors have been bickering over the resource-rich waters for some time. President Obama (after having dubbed himself “America’s first Pacific president” back in November) is sending troops to the area; for humanitarian and security assistance — of course. China has since responded with plans to ramp up naval exercises.
Let’s not rock the boat on this one — particularly the Chinese aircraft carrier bobbing toward the South China Sea. China’s first-ever carrier (a former Soviet vessel with a new coat of paint) just began its second sea trial and naval officials have declared it on a mission of “training and research.” Hopefully, the “research” angle doesn’t involve chunking political prisoners off the deck. Anyhow, the U.S. should sit back and let China saber-rattle for a bit.
If the Chinese want to pose and preen on the high seas, let’em. If they want to issue outlandish statements about “research” on aircraft carriers, let’em. If they want to hire Baghdad Bob and turn him into Beijing Bob, let’em. The Obama administration should answer China’s gunboat diplomacy with a wry smile and a dose of discretion — no need for a diplomatic offensive.
Trade will never be separated from politics. Wish it were so; it’s not. However, trade should never be separated from pragmatism either. Regarding agricultural exports to China, the U.S. should speak softly and carry a big hopper. U.S. agriculture has played a waiting game for too many years, repeatedly promised that access to the Chinese market was at hand. It is now.
A billion Chinese are going to eat something; let’s feed them.