Few noticed last August when Xi launched the “clean your plate” campaign ( https://www.newsweek.com/watch-out-china-cannot-feed-itself-opinion-1575948 ). A great read by Gordon Chang. China is an informational black hole and what little we know comes from the world bank which we now know is sketch ( https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/9/17/probe-finds-world-bank-changed-data-to-boost-china-ranking ). I will attempt to thread together a possible scenario which may explain Xi’s response to the immediate existential threat China is facing, and it’s not Evergrande.
Trade wars: In response to Trump’s tariffs and Australia’s drunken belligerence over Covid origins, China responded in kind with restrictions on food products from each country. This came at the cost of artificially inflating food prices by more reliance on high cost producers like Brazil ( https://youtu.be/udrDQHqnmYY ). It may seem like a reasonable tactic, but there are far more efficient ways to cripple America’s economy. They could limit the export of rare earth minerals or electrical transformers, both of which China has a monopoly on and the war would have been over as quickly as it had begun. Instead they chose a long protracted tit for tat over a few billion in soy beans. Suspicious.
Swine flu: Earlier this year a mysterious man made swine flu ravaged the pig population in China ( https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-swinefever-vaccines-insight-idUSKBN29R00X ). This prompted the authorities to cull millions of hogs in an attempt to get the disease under control. Oddly, this variant didn’t kill the the pigs outright. Instead it reduced their fertility, limiting the number of healthy piglets the mother could produce. It’s impossible to know if the efforts to eliminate this variant were successful, but it’s safe to assume this will be a nagging problem for China’s pork producers, already reeling from the 2018 outbreak.
Fertilizer: The main feedstock for fertilizer in China is coal ( https://www.bloombergquint.com/china/china-warns-on-food-security-as-energy-crunch-hits-fertilizers ). Faced with a rapid increase in prices and environmental concerns, China is transitioning to “organic” fertilizer. Given this fertilizer is contaminated with Erwinia and is more than likely derived from municipal waste, expect crop yields to take a big hit ( https://weather.com/en-IN/india/pollution/news/2021-09-22-chinas-organic-fertiliser-infested-with-erwinia-is-an-agricultural ).
Concrete: The Chinese economic system is geared for throughput as opposed to profit. Keeping people employed guarantees social stability. That’s where One Belt One Road comes in handy. China has saturated the world economy to such an extent that they’re basically giving infrastructure away to developing nations throughout the world. If they’re dumping concrete in Africa to this extent, imagine what rural China must look like. And we must because China has banned open sourced road maps ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restrictions_on_geographic_data_in_China ). Why the secrecy about roads? Could they simply be paving roads to nowhere through productive farm land to keep people busy? We know this; China uses a LOT of concrete. Between 2011 and 2013, China consumed more concrete than the U.S. used in the entire 20th century ( https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2014/12/05/china-used-more-concrete-in-3-years-than-the-u-s-used-in-the-entire-20th-century-infographic/?sh=994d4f34131a ). Building big empty cities might give your GDP a nice sugar rush, but it comes with immense opportunity cost in terms of agricultural production.
What does all this have to do with Evergrande? Faced with the prospect of cratering food production, China can no longer afford to waste what precious little land is has left on building empty apartments. In the near term expect food riots and a heavy handed government crack down in response.