China Urges Stocking Up Ahead of Winter, Prompting Worries Online
(Bloomberg) -- A statement from China’s government urging local authorities to ensure there was adequate food supply during the winter and encouraging people to stock up on some essentials prompted concerned talk online, with people linking it with the widening coronavirus outbreak, a forecast cold snap, or even rising tensions with Taiwan.
The Ministry of Commerce urged local authorities to stabilize prices and ensure supplies of daily necessities including vegetables this winter and next spring, according to a statement Monday evening. Chinese households were also encouraged to stock up on a certain amount of daily necessities in preparation for the winter months or emergencies.
The notice was similar to one released in September before the week of holidays at the start of October, which told local governments to ensure food supplies and stable prices during the break. Even so, this new appeal sparked speculation that it’s linked to a widening coronavirus outbreak which has prompted a new round of lockdowns and travel restrictions after it spread to over half the mainland’s provinces.
The topic “Ministry of Commerce encourages households to stockpile daily necessities as needed” had over 17 million views on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social platform, and more than 5,000 people had commented on it as of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, Beijing time. By 6:13 p.m. views had risen to more than 43 million although the number of comments had fallen to 4,809.
A number of the comments speculated the request to stock food must be linked to plans for an attack on Taiwan. One of the comments mentioning Taiwan seen earlier in the day was no longer able to be viewed in the evening.
There was also concern that extreme weather could affect vegetable production and transportation. Wholesale vegetable prices had already soared in recent weeks, costing more than meat in some cases, after heavy rains drenched major producing regions in the north and flooded the top growing province of Shandong.
In response to the online speculation, a Ministry of Commerce official tried to calm concerns. “The supply of daily necessities is sufficient everywhere and the supply should be fully guaranteed,” Zhu Xiaoliang, a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce, said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.
Earlier in the day, the state media Economic Daily put out a report saying that people shouldn’t over-think or become anxious about the original MOFCOM statement. It argued that the call to stock up on food was so people would be prepared if they had to quarantine at home during the current outbreak.
Shares of food manufacturers surged in mainland China and Hong Kong on the news, with Fu Jian Anjoy Foods Co. jumping as much as 9.2%. Noodle maker Chen Ke Ming Food Manufacturing Co. rose almost 10% at one point, while Toly Bread Co. advanced at much as 6.5%.
China’s bracing for a cold snap this week, with temperatures in some regions forecast to fall by as much as 15 degrees Celsius. Vegetable prices typically rise when the temperature drops in winter and supply is unable to catch up with increasing demand before the Lunar New Year holiday.
The Monday statement told local commerce departments to coordinate more to improve local and inter-provincial supply chains for vegetables and also to strengthen monitoring of the prices of key staples such as vegetables and meat.
Major agricultural distributors were encouraged to sign long-term contracts with producers, while provinces in both southern and northern China were told to improve their vegetable reserve systems and also release meat and vegetables from the reserves in a timely manner to replenish supplies.
The call to stock up on food comes less than two weeks after a different government department told companies not to hoard food.
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With assistance from Bloomberg