But the government’s latest attempt to head off concerns about pricing and supply appears to be spiraling out of control.
This one orders local authorities to ensure that their citizens have an “adequate supply” of essentials this winter. It also instructs those governments to keep food costs stable — a point of concern in recent weeks, as extreme weather, energy shortages and Covid-19 restrictions threaten supply.
But Monday’s directive has attracted the attention of everyday Chinese in a way that few other government notices have.
In part, that appears to be because it includes rare language about the need for local authorities to encourage families to stockpile “daily necessities.” Even if the notice wasn’t intended for the average household to read, many online have seized on it as a personal warning.
The tragedy remains within living memory for many in the country. And while China’s economy has since undergone a dramatic transformation, concerns about food security linger: The government, for example, recently unveiled an “action plan” encouraging people not to order more food than they need, and to report restaurants that waste food.
There’s nothing whatsoever to substantiate any rumors that China is preparing for imminent war. But the online panic does suggest some brewing tension, according to Willy Lam, an adjunct professor in the Department of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“It is a reflection of the tense geopolitical situation between China and neighboring countries,” he said.
“It reflects the anxiety of the people regarding further drastic rises in food [costs] and also a mistrust of the government,” Lam added.
The Chinese government and some state media outlets have tried to allay fears about food shortages.
Zhu Xiaoliang, a commerce ministry official, told state broadcaster CCTV this week that there’s plenty of supplies to go around. Zhu stressed that the directive was intended for local authorities.
The Jiangsu Department of Emergency Management, meanwhile, acknowledged concerns about “emergency supplies” on its WeChat account Tuesday. But the agency said any recommendations for stockpiling are “normal” and intended to “improve the public’s awareness of disaster prevention.”
Such measures “will likely impact residents going to shops, and also impact the operating hours of markets,” said Chenjun Pan, a senior analyst at Rabobank who researches agriculture in China.
Lam said Beijing is not likely to change course, either, meaning that cities have to prepare to endure potentially long lockdowns as the government tries to keep its coronavirus case count low.
“This is a preparation for the fact that these lockdown conditions will continue, even though by and large, the total numbers for China are actually very low compared to other countries,” he added. “It’s unlikely that Beijing will stop this zero tolerance policy.”
— CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.