China acquires Syngenta for US$43 billion – China’s biopolitics

4 min read

The USD43 billion all-cash acquisition of the world’s largest agrochemicals company Swiss Syngenta AG by China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) — the biggest ever Chinese overseas corporate purchase — would probably materialise after the U.S. national security panel CFIUS granted the approval on August 22 [Note 1].

Such an ‘at-any-cost’ investment for securing Syngenta’s numerous bio-chemical technology patents and advanced research capacities by Beijing has at least two implications. One is China’s policy orientation towards conventional-vs-organic farming. Another is China’s institutionalisation of ‘biopolitics’.

Obviously, Beijing has made a choice in between the organic and conventional farming methodologies. With reference to a research report published by “Nature” (485, 229-232, 10 May 2012), organic farming generates “34 lower yields when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable”. The US Department of Agriculture’s studies in 2008 and 2014 also have similar results from 370 meaningful comparisons. Except for hay and silage crops, most other crops’ organic yields are lower by around 20-40%: for example, corn 35% less, rice 39% less, tomato 61% less, cabbage 38% less, cotton 45% less [Note 2].

In no doubt is organic farming more environmentally friendly. Nonethelessly, it is the rich who can afford the much higher prices can benefit from the organic produce. To the vast majority, especially the Third World peoples in general and the Chinese people in particular, organic foods are luxuries.

Furthermore, since the Chinese government tends to be cautious towards the ‘genetically modified’ (GM) foods (so far, only GM cotton and papaya have been approved), reliance on conventional farming is likely to be the prevailing direction in the whole 21st century.

Securing Syngenta’s advanced biochemical patents is a milestone for China not only because the farming efficiency can be enhanced for conventional farming, but also because from then on China has the capability to directly and in larger scale assist all the developing countries to speed up their agricultural transformation.

One of the reasons for continual famines in Africa is that, since the well naturally endowed Western countries basically do not need to import foods from there (except cocoa for producing chocolate), most aids and loans are related to basic infrastructure ranging from water and electricity supplies to public hygiene rather than the patented farming technology transfers.

On the contrary, China needs to buy bulks of African farming products (e.g. Senegal’s sale of peanuts to China makes up two-thirds of its total export and provides jobs to 60% of its population) on one hand, and is integrating the whole continent into its One Belt One Road Initiative assertively, on the other.

Therefore, China will proactively assist these developing countries by sharing with them the advanced agricultural techniques. As a matter of fact, China has been transferring its hybrid rice technology to Africa, including Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, since early 2000s.

The ‘One Belt One Road’ mega-project which encompasses 65 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa has a fundamental difference from the colonialist global development beginning in the 15th century. Whereas the latter applied racist massacres and Darwin’s law of the jungle to “develop” the world, the former is striving for success via human life protection and the principle of mutual benefits.

With reference to the French philosopher M. Foucault’s Biopolitique (biopolitics), we can better understand what social development through human life protection means (the Chinese translation of his Il faut défendre la société “Society Must Be Defended” 1975-6 lectures was first published in 1999 which has triggered heated intellectual discussions on mainland for several times; the English translation showed up not until 2003).

Foucault proposes that “after a first seizure of power over the body in an individualising mode, we have a second seizure of power that is … massifying at man-as-species … what I would call a ‘biopolitics’ of the human race.” The government’s primary duty, Foucault says, is to protect the life of the whole population, not any particular individual. The fields or domains of biopolitics include “the ratio of births to deaths, public hygiene, longevity … elimination of the biological threat to and the improvement of the species or race” [Note 3].

In 2012, the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported that up to 2008, China’s agricultural standard was around 100 years behind the American, and the productivity per head was merely 2% of the European and 1% of the American.

Furthermore, in light of the 80% control over the global grains supply by the big four corporations ‘ABCD’ (ADM, Bunge and Cargill of the U.S. and Louis Dreyfus of France), Beijing has to fend off those free market or liberal theories in order to, in concerted efforts, raise the quality and quantity of agricultural harvest, and achieve a breakthrough from the post-colonial oligopolistic domination over all the Third World peoples in general and the Chinese in particular. And buying Syngenta for USD43 billion cash is simply one of the many acts taken by China to run its biopolitics.

This article first appeared at The 4th Media

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

[Note 1]
Reuters, US clearance of ChemChina’s syngenta deal removes key hurdle

[Note 2]
Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture
The lower productivity of organic farming

[Note 3]
See p.243-256 in Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-76”, translated by David Macey, 2003, Picador: New York.

Tony Simon

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