China must develop independence and strength in seed technology, President Xi Jinping said while visiting a seed laboratory in Hainan province.

By Chun Han Wong, Wall Street Journal

For one of his newest anticorruption campaigns, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is ordering his enforcers to dig up dirt. This time, he means, literally, the kind in the ground.

The Communist Party’s top disciplinary body–after punishing graft in the military, domestic security organs and the financial sector–is now hunting officials, merchants and farmers it suspects of harvesting illicit profits from trade in grains and seeds. The body is one of the busiest and most powerful agencies in China, tasked with imposing control in areas that Xi considers his top priorities.

Tasked with being more forceful in safeguarding the nation’s “seed security,” authorities have investigated dozens of cases involving seed-related misconduct and, in several instances, imprisoned grain-sector officials on corruption charges, according to government disclosures and state media reports. Meanwhile, local governments are directing their own crackdowns on “seed sector corruption,” sending cadres into the countryside to educate farmers and flush out offenders.

Senior Chinese lawmakers also are reviewing a proposed food security law, which would set legal frameworks for safeguarding food production and supplies, developing cutting-edge seed technologies and punishing misconduct that jeopardizes food safety and national security, according to a draft issued in late June by China’s national legislature.

Officials say the goal is to stop the proliferation of fake and substandard seeds that could jeopardize food production and safety, while punishing officials, merchants and farmers who siphon agricultural subsidies and peddle low-grade seeds.

Xi has often highlighted food security as a national interest, calling on officials to ensure that China can fully nourish its 1.4 billion people. His demands have taken on greater urgency in recent years as he pushed to prepare his country for a potential confrontation with the U.S.–a major source of Chinese grain imports, including soybeans and corn–and forestall disruptions to food supplies for one of the world’s most populous nations.

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Officials call the seed-breeding base in the island province of Hainan the ‘Silicon Valley’ of China’s seed industry.