Nations that have refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risk accelerating a global food crisis, the United States international aid agency’s chief said on Monday, singling out China for hoarding fertilizer and grain while millions of people in East Africa face starvation.
Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, also criticized China for contributing only $3 million to the United Nations’ World Food Program in 2022 — compared with $2.7 billion donated by the United States — despite predictions of an “explosion of child deaths” in the Horn of Africa because of food shortages. The shortages started with a devastating drought and spiraled after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Ms. Power’s comments highlighted the increasing anger of the United States and its allies over China’s tacit support for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his war to control Ukraine.
Beyond the battlefield devastation that is expected to continue for months, if not years, the war has severely interrupted wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine and fertilizer supplies around Eastern Europe, roiling global food markets and raising fears of a new African famine.
“Countries that have sat out this war must not sit out this global food crisis,” Ms. Power said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
She called on China to join more than 100 other nations that have pledged to donate humanitarian aid, export more food and fertilizer, and share information about domestic stockpiles and production of agricultural products to soothe jittery markets.
Doing so, she said, would “powerfully demonstrate the country’s desire to be a global leader and a friend to the world’s least-developed economies.”
Instead, Ms. Power said that China “in particular stands out for its absence” in relief efforts in Africa, where Beijing is engaged in development projects worth billions of dollars — sometimes with Chinese labor instead of local workers.
The World Food Program estimates that as many as 20 million people could go hungry by the end of the year in the Horn of Africa. China donated $34 million to the U.N. food agency’s efforts in the region during another drought in 2017.
In a lengthy response on Monday evening, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, detailed Beijing’s work with the World Food Program, including setting up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China and other assistance associated with its development projects in more than 140 countries and regions.
Mr. Liu also accused the United States and a handful of its allies of manipulating the global food trade.
“The U.S. has done nothing to reduce its own food consumed for energy, and has even exploited the situation to inflate grains prices and seek selfish profits,” Mr. Liu said. He called it “extremely irresponsible.”
Ms. Power, a former ambassador to the United Nations, reserved her harshest remarks for Mr. Putin and the Russian invasion, which she called “the latest accelerant of human misery.”
“Through his actions, he is also waging a war on the world’s poor by spiking food, fertilizer and fuel prices, while taking Ukrainian grain off the market,” she said.