A child holds a Chinese national flag. (Reuters)
China's huge population that represents a third of the world and its unprecedented economic growth have resulted in the country's supplies of food, energy and metals and minerals falling far short of demand.
This has prompted China to step up efforts to acquire farmlands, oil fields and mining assets abroad.
The world's second-largest economy has the largest population in the world at 1.36 billion and it is expected to rise to 1.4 billion by 2050. The population boom has forced China to source a vast portion of its food and energy needs from abroad.
China is the world's fastest-growing major economy with gross domestic product growth rates averaging 10% over the last 30 years. It is currently the largest manufacturing economy in the world.
The industrialisation has resulted in a massive demand for commodities. Economic development in China has become a major driving force of global commodity prices. China's overseas acquisitions of mining assets are to ensure a stable supply of raw materials for its key manufacturing sector.
Overseas Land Grabbing
China consumes about 20% of the world's food supplies, but its rapid industrialisation has shrunk farmland there, accounting for just 9% of the world total. China lost 8.2 million hectares of arable land between 1997 and 2010 due to urbanisation and environmental degradation, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"As urbanisation speeds up, consumption has led to greater food demand and domestic grain prices have stayed above global prices," Ding Li, a senior researcher in agriculture at Anbound Consulting in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post.
"Therefore, China has been importing more and more grain."
The spike in global food prices since 2008 has prompted China to take up more farmland overseas in order to contain a further rise in food costs. China is currently one of the leading renters of overseas farmland in Africa, South America and south-east Asia.
In 2009, China owned just two million hectares of farmland outside its territory, but things have now changed with the ruling Communist Party vowing to make the nation more self-sufficient by outsourcing food production. China also appears more cautious over its food policy after a series of scandals over contaminated food.
In Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina, China bought up land to grow soya beans, corn and cotton for domestic consumption. Chinese firms have also entered into land grab agreements in Africa and Australia, primarily in search of milk and meat.
In Central Asia, China is targeting countries such as Tajikistan.
Recently, the country moved to Eastern Europe as quasi-military firm Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp agreed with Ukraine to lease 5% of its land for a period of 50 years. Under the plan, China would ultimately control 7.5 million acres of land in Ukraine, representing 9% of its arable land.
China has also invested €10m ($13.5m, £8.4m) in Bulgarian land for growing corn, forage and sunflower.
Acquisition of Mining Assets
China has been viewed as the "dragon" that strives to swallow mineral commodities and assets around the world. It is one of the largest consumers and producers of ores and metals.
Even though China is the largest consumer of certain minerals such as copper, its domestic production accounts for less than 6% of global production. There is a widening gap in China between its mined production and consumption demand, which it is trying to fill through imports and promoting companies for overseas acquisitions.
The country is encouraging consolidation in its domestic mining sector through mergers and acquisitions in order reduce in-house competition and shore up finances for overseas projects.
In 2013, Chinese companies have acquired minority mining-sector stakes in 16 deals totalling $696m outside China, according to Dealogic. The majority of the deals are located in Australia and the rest in Indonesia, Canada and the UK.
Africa is often regarded as the most attractive destination for Chinese outbound mining acquisitions. Chinese firms are benefiting from their reserves of cash unavailable to western competitors to scoop up assets at steep discounts.
"China needs access to natural resources while African countries need a lot of capital and infrastructure support. Therefore, it is very easy for Chinese businesses to gain access to the abundant natural resources in African countries by providing them with capital and infrastructure aid," a respondent told accountants Deloitte during a 2010 survey.
China's Rising Overseas Oil Interests
China is also promoting overseas acquisition of oil and gas assets by domestic companies by providing them necessary financing. The country is looking to feed its economy's rising energy demand with the move.
China's crude oil imports are expected to climb 7.3% and account for 58% of the country's total consumption, according to China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC).
Chinese companies have completed 83 overseas oil and gas purchases worth $100.7bn in the past five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Cnooc's $15.1bn acquisition of Canada-based Nexen early in 2013 was China's largest overseas acquisition.
Over the last five years, Sinopec and CNOOC, the country's second and third-biggest oil and gas producers, spent $41bn and $26bn, respectively, on overseas assets.
China National Petroleum Corp has invested more than $9bn to purchase overseas assets in 2013, including the $4.2bn purchase of a stake in Mozambique's Rovuma fields in July. The company is planning to double its overseas output by 2015.
PetroChina, China's biggest oil and gas producer, is looking to invest $60bn on overseas acquisitions over the period to 2020. By that time, the company intends to raise its production abroad to more than 50% of its total.
To contact the editor, e-mail: