CGTN: Why China believes seeds are a matter of national security

BEIJING, Feb. 27, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Chen Qingshan and his team have a pressing priority: working out how to speed up the breeding of new varieties of soybeans to boost production capacity, so as to help China achieve self-sufficiency in soya crop.

“The soybean is a pain point for the country,” said Chen, a soybean breeding expert and researcher at Northeast Agricultural University, a high-ranking agricultural university in China’s leading soybean production base – northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.

Chen said his team’s research is focused on making breakthroughs in soybean germplasm, so as to help accelerate the domestic production of soybeans and reduce dependence on imports. This goal has become more relevant amid increasing geopolitical tensions, including the prolonged Ukraine crisis.

Tiny and trivial as they may seem, seeds are the “chips” of agriculture. And germplasm, or living genetic resources, are the very basis of seed breeding.

Germplasm security should be elevated to the strategic height of national security, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in July 2021.

Such a holistic approach to national security can be clearly understood through an ancient piece of Chinese philosophy: “The momentum of the world either flourishes or declines; the state of the world either progresses or regresses.”

Quoting the phrase, and the classic wisdom it entails, Xi underscored the importance of being prepared for potential challenges, risks and dangers and seizing the initiative in addressing them.

“The tide of the world either flows or ebbs; the condition of a state either prospers or fails.”

The Chinese saying, which can be traced back to Lyu Zuqian, a Confucian scholar during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), means that a country must always be vigilant and prepared for potential dangers, even in times of calm and peace, given the rapid changes in the momentum and state of the world.

The Chinese leadership has long attached great importance to this philosophy of governance. For President Xi, food security is among the country’s most fundamental interests. China needs to feed nearly one-fifth of the global population with some 9 percent of the world’s arable land.

Though China has increased production of high-quality soybeans and imports have declined, the sector remains a weak link in the drive to achieve food security. In 2021, imported soybeans accounted for more than 85 percent of the country’s total demand.

Chen, the soybean researcher, said the country’s goal was to increase the crop’s production by 50 percent in the next three to five years.

Then, the production of soybeans will grow by 10 million tonnes a year, or about one-tenth of the volume the country imports, he said.

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