China: UK policy — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:31 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Conservative, Aldershot 4:31 pm, 7th May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered UK policy towards China.

It is my honour and privilege to lead this debate. I must start by declaring an interest. Last year I was pleased to visit China as part of a delegation from the all-party parliamentary group on China, very ably led by my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and superbly well organised by Saki Reid, the all-party group’s administrator. That visit is one of the reasons I called for this debate—not the only reason, but one of them.

My simple proposition is that our policy approach to China should rest on three pillars: expertise, realism and wisdom. To start with expertise, it is important that we exert every effort institutionally to understand and gain expertise about modern-day China, and about the remarkable scale of the impact that its recent rise will have on all of us and on our children. Since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping started his reform and the opening-up of China, at least 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty. China’s GDP has risen from $150 billion in 1978 to $12 trillion last year. China now has a defence budget of $228 billion, which is second only to that of the United States. The rise of China and the growth of its economy is the single biggest event shaping global politics today, and indeed shaping issues such as climate, for example. It is therefore our duty to gain expertise in order to understand that.

The scale of the impact of the rise of China can be seen in, for example, Chinese pork consumption. That is perhaps an unexpected example, but it provides an interesting insight—the scale of China’s impact on the world can often be seen in areas that one does not necessarily think about. Since the 1970s, when Deng Xiaoping put in place agricultural reforms, among other reforms, the scale of Chinese pork consumption has risen sevenfold. China now consumes almost 500 million pigs annually, which is actually half of the global production of pigs—I am quoting from an excellent report by The Economist.

That increase in consumption is about more than just calorific impact; it is also about the symbology of the new Chinese middle class being able to enjoy pork, which their parents were unable to do, and that represents a triumph over hardship that is part of the Chinese story. Also, the scale of that consumption has significant consequences for climate change. Water and accessible and available land are so scarce in China that it does not grow enough pig-feed to feed all those pigs, so more than half of all global feedstuffs goes to feeding Chinese pigs.

That has an impact all the way around the globe, because 1 kg of pork requires 6 kg of feed, mainly soy or corn, and whole swathes of what had been Amazonian rainforest in Brazil and other countries are now given over to the production of soya beans that are purely for Chinese pigs. In Brazil, more than 25 million hectares of land are used to cultivate soy. China is not one of the countries that has signed up to the soy roundtable, which is a group of countries that have agreed not to consume pigs fed on soya beans cultivated on newly deforested land.