After 26 years of receiving food aid, China has emerged as the world's third largest food donor, according to a report by the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP).
China donated 5,77,000 tonnes of food to more than a dozen countries around the world in 2005, with the great majority sent across the border by rail to North Korea, which relies on food aid to feed its poverty stricken rural population.
The report's findings, which track all international food donations, underline China's growing economic and political clout in Asia, and show how far the country has come since the great famines of the late 1950s killed an estimated 30 million peasants.
For the past few years, WFP and other countries have steadily cut donations to North Korea. China is keen to prevent a refugee crisis in North Korea spilling over its borders.
Paul French, a Shanghai-based expert on the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,'' said: “If food didn't come from China, the trickle of refugees could quickly turn into a flood.'' Beijing also sees food aid as a carrot with which to persuade the North Koreans to come to the negotiating table.