U.S. sells record amount of corn to China despite rising tensions

China recorded the single biggest-ever purchase of U.S. corn, extending its large imports of American farm goods, the U.S. Agriculture Department said Thursday. China is trying to meet the first-phase target of a trade agreement even as tensions rise between the world’s two largest economies. 

The USDA said that exporters sold 1.937 million metric tons of corn for delivery to China during the 2020-2021 marketing year beginning Sept. 1, the third-largest deal for the grain to any destination. This purchase tops the previous largest deal to China of 1.762 million tons earlier this month. 

The corn sale reported on Thursday was valued at around $325 million, based on new-crop prices in the U.S. China’s American farm goods purchases amounted to about $6 billion through May – the latest data available – up 9.1% from the same period in 2019 and 31% below 2017’s level, according to Reuters. 

The Phase 1 trade deal signed by China and United States in January suggests the total value of 2020 U.S. farm exports to China must reach a minimum of $36.5 billion. Although the recent massive purchases will place the nation closer to that ambitious target, “achieving the figure might be challenging,” Jin Canrong, an expert on U.S. studies at the Renmin University of China, said in an interview with CBS News. 

Trade deals seem to be going on the right track despite the escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington. China on Thursday accused the U.S. of stoking a new Cold War ahead of its presidential election in November. According to a new Pew report, Americans’ unfavorable views of China have reached a “new historic high” at 73%. 

Last week, China ordered the United States to close its consulate in the western city of Chengdu. The move was a response to the Trump administration’s order for Beijing to close its consulate in Houston after Washington accused Chinese agents of trying to steal medical and other research in Texas.

China is trying to prevent the relationship from continuing to worsen by fulfilling its commitment with trade deals, Jin said. “It makes sense why the corn import recorded a high figure, because economically speaking, China needs the cheap farm products from the U.S. with land shortage at home,” Jin said.

In a book published last month, President Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton alleged that Mr. Trump pushed Chinese President Xi Jinping to buy U.S. farm products in order to help him win agricultural states in the November election. Jin told CBS News he’s not sure if Bolton’s claim is true but “China does not intervene in America’s civil affairs.”