China’s central bank has banned all unregulated cryptocurrencies. Experts say the ban is not a significant setback for bitcoin and other digital currencies, but it will have an impact on how China does business in general.
China’s zero-covid regulations are placing Chinese cities on lockdown and halting aviation travel for the first time. They’re also sabotaging trade routes across the country’s land borders, which are vital to the region’s farmers and merchants.
Thousands of trucks packed with dragon fruit, jackfruit, watermelons, and other food have been held up at the border in neighboring Vietnam for weeks, awaiting entrance. Their journeys were hampered as Chinese officials, claiming the need to manage Covid-19, halted operations at a number of gateways or restricted traffic around the end of last year.
Because the fruit was deteriorating, several dealers decided to limit their losses. Five truckloads of dragon fruit were sold domestically for one-tenth the amount they would have fetched on the other side of the border by Nguyen Ngoc Phuong Thao, who sells only to China. The entrepreneur rerouted three trucks to a sea port, paying a premium to get the perishable goods delivered to Shanghai sooner. “It felt like dumping it,” she remarked of selling domestically.
Others are still awaiting their turn. Lung Van Nhien and the jackfruit boxes he was contracted to transport to China have been languishing in a parking lot near the border for the last eight days. He said that the fruit is starting to darken and that if he can’t get through, he’ll have to find a spot to dump it all if he can’t get through.
“I’m sick of it.”
― Tran Minh Son, a Vietnamese farmer
The inability of Vietnamese farmers and businesses to access Chinese customers is debilitating.
Take, for example, dragon fruit. According to statistics from Vietnam’s commerce and agricultural ministries, China’s increased hunger helped boost red-skinned fruit exports to $1 billion in 2021, almost doubling from $57 million in 2010. Around 80% of such exports are sent to China. With many farmers moving over from conventional rice production, the Southeast Asian nation moved from producing fewer than 25,000 metric tons of the fruit yearly two decades ago to an average of roughly 1.4 million tons in recent years.
Dragon fruit cultivated in Vietnam has also found its way to Australia and Europe, although demand there isn’t quite as high as it is in Vietnam. According to Truong Minh Trung, a farmer in the fruit-producing Long An province, a year’s worth of sales to these marketplaces is equivalent to two to three days’ worth of exports to China.
In Vietnam, you may buy dragon fruit. In 2021, the nation exported $1 billion worth of the red-skinned fruit.
Photo credit: Shutterstock/luong thai linh
After China impeded trade flows, he stated, “The dragon fruit that is ripening now is regarded all gone.”
Even as the highly transmissible Omicron form grows internationally, Beijing has deviated from most of the rest of the globe in continuing to pursue its aim of keeping Covid-19 infections at zero. Vietnam was likewise a zero-Covid nation until last year, when changes in the virus made it more difficult to cease all transmission. China’s actions, such as delaying border-gate procedures and halting fruit imports, were described as overkill by the country’s commerce ministry in late December.
To combat the fast-spreading Omicron version, China is implementing a tight set of Covid-19 guidelines during the Winter Olympics. The Wall Street Journal outlines how some of these limitations would operate, from a “closed-loop” system to a prohibition on screaming, and why, despite all attempts, an epidemic might still wreck contests. Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/
The limitations were driven, according to local Chinese officials, by Covid-19 illnesses on their side of the border or fears that the virus might hitch a trip into China through Vietnamese goods. When questioned about the border interruptions, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated on Jan. 4 that “China implements relevant Covid-19 procedures in light of the global Covid-19 situation with a responsible attitude toward the lives and health of Chinese and foreign individuals.”
Some border crossing sites have already reopened, however merchants and truck drivers say the weeks-long backlog will take time to clear. As they wait, they are keeping warm with truck-side campfires and preparing simple meals of pork and boiled cabbage or bok choy. Authorities in Vietnam have banned fresh vehicles from coming until the pileup subsides in certain circumstances.
Truckers congregate at a makeshift parking area as Vietnamese cargo trucks await entry into China.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Str/Agence France-Presse
And there’s no assurance that China won’t retaliate.
Not only individuals, but even fruit, are tested for the coronavirus in Chinese cities, provinces, and seaports. Last month, a city in the Guangxi region prohibited dragon-fruit imports after the disease was discovered on three batches of the fruit and its packaging, according to local officials. After two batches of Vietnamese dragon fruit were discovered to be infected in the same way, a county in Anhui province halted all commerce relating to imported fruit, according to the report. Longan—a luscious lychee-like fruit—shipments from Thailand were screened earlier this month, resulting in the quarantining of vendors, customers, and shop visitors.
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Vietnam will be the first nation to use zero-Covid in the Chinese way. It was one of the world’s tightest practitioners of the strategy until September, utilizing test-trace-quarantine to fend off all viral invasions. Then the dynamic shifted: company closures harmed the country’s economy, the Delta variant—then the most transmissible strain—made it more difficult to capture every case, and the country’s vaccination rate, which had been among the lowest in Southeast Asia until the summer, began to rise. The zero-Covid period in Vietnam has come to an end, according to the country’s officials.
Despite the fact that Covid-19 instances are still on the rise, no large cities are now under lockdown. Schools are reopening and karaoke bars are in full swing in Ho Chi Minh City, where a severe lockdown last September prohibited many from even coming out of their houses to purchase food.
Tropical fruit growers, on the other hand, are suffering. Due to the crowded border with China, Tran Kim Thuc, the director of a cooperative of 17 dragon-fruit growers, claimed merchants had stopped purchasing in recent weeks. Farmers were selling the fruit for as cheap as 10 cents per kilogram to local purchasers, he claimed. A kilogram is the same as 2.2 pounds.
Farmer Tran Minh Son, 48, said he was leaving fruit to rot, or using it to feed fish, or turning it into compost. “I’m sick of it.”
—This piece was co-written by Raffaele Huang in Beijing.
Niharika Mandhana can be reached at [email protected]
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