China's coming for our bacon

China's pork hegemony is turning into pork imperialism. (Imporkialism?)

With more than 446 million pigs -- one for every three citizens of the world's most populous country and more than the next 43 countries combined -- pork is a big deal for the Chinese economy, to the point where analysts joke that CPI actually stands for China Pork Index and the government actually maintains a strategic pork reserve of frozen meat that can be released during times of shortage. 

But all that hog is apparently not enough. Today brings news that Shuanghui International Holdings -- China's biggest pork producer -- is acquiring the Virginia-based producer Smithfield Foods Inc. for $4.72 billion in order to bolster Chinese supplies.

This is obviously a matter of great geostrategic concern (my emphasis): 

China's consumption of pork is rising with the expansion of its middle class while there are questions being asked about the safety of the country's food supply. Smithfield's livestock unit is the world's largest hog producer, bringing about 15.8 million of the animals to market a year, according to the company's website. It owns 460 farms and has contracts with 2,100 others across 12 U.S. states.

The takeover is valued at $7.1 billion including debt, which would make it the largest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The deal is likely to face scrutiny by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., said two people familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

“On the one hand, pork is not directly an issue of national security, as defense or telecom might be,” Ken Goldman, a New York-based analyst for JPMorgan Chase & Co. who has a hold rating on the shares, said in a report today. “On the other hand, if CFIUS comes to believe that Chinese ownership of the U.S.’s largest hog farmer and pork supplier presents a food supply risk, then it may have a heightened concern.”

During last fall's round of hysteria over global pork supplies, I wondered if China might open its strategic reserve. In the end, these reports proved to be greatly exaggerated: the Baconator is still on the menu. Next time we might not be so lucky... and find ourselves suddenly at the mercy of Big Zhu



Even soccer can't escape the never-ending Persian/Arabian Gulf spat

What's in a name? When it comes to the body of water nestled between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula: a whole lot. For years, the Persian (to some) or Arabian (to others) Gulf has been a source of tension between Iran and its Arab neighbors. In 2010, for instance, Iran threatened to ban airlines that didn't use "Persian Gulf" from flying in its airspace. And just last year, Google received a warning from Tehran that it would face "serious damages" if it didn't definitively label the space "Persian" on its Maps. Now the conflict has spilled into the world of sports.

On Tuesday, Iran's Fars News Agency reported that Iran's Football Federation will file a complaint against the United Arab Emirates "for using a fake name for Persian Gulf in the title of its soccer league."

The "fake name" Fars is referring to: the Arabian Gulf League. Mohammed Thani Murshed Al Romaithi, the chairman of the UAE's Pro League Committee, has announced that the country's professional soccer league will operate under the new name beginning in the 2013-2014 season.

"Football in the UAE is moving into a new phase, and with it we adopt a new name to take us forward from next season," he told a crowd at the Etisalat Pro League Awards in Dubai on Sunday. And while the remarks began innocuously enough, he left no doubt about the political undertones of the gesture, going on to say, "We pledge our allegiance to the Arabian Gulf as the heart of the Arabic origin and heritage. Announcing this new name is a letter of love from the UAE to the Gulf; we name our League after the Arabian Gulf as a gesture to show our appreciation for the bounteous resources and opportunities it has afforded us."

Not surprisingly, the Iranians were not amused. Fars quotes Houshang Nasirzadeh, the head of the legal committee for the country's football federation, as saying the organization "will object to the fake naming in the next two days. It will send a letter to the FIFA ethics committee. It regards the UAE's behavior as politically-tainted and racist."

While his anger may seem extreme, disputes over the Gulf's nomenclature have much deeper and more political roots than the controversies over Google Maps and airline designations might suggest. According to some sources, the rivalry began in the 1960s with the rise of Arab nationalism. (A fun fact for all you geography nerds: Back in the days of Ptolemy, maps did depict an Arabian Gulf, though the name referred to the Red Sea.) 

According to Al Jazeera correspondent Teymoor Nabil, who wrote an article on the dispute after the U.S. Navy faced criticism for using the term Arabian Gulf on its Facebook page in 2010, "ironically, among the major drivers of the movement for change were Arab perceptions that Iran, driven by Washington, had supported Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1973."

Fars is quick to point out that the United Nations has officially weighed in on Iran's side:

The UN sent a circular to all 186 countries of the world in 1995, stressing that they must use the term "Persian Gulf" when referring to the waterway....

However, some regional and hostile western countries continue to distort historical facts by misnaming the "Persian Gulf", in an organized attempt to steal the true identity of the Persian Gulf, but to no avail.

The debate may not be going away anytime soon, but look on the bright side: At least the name "Britain Sea," which was used for the Gulf in London's Times Journal in 1840, never caught on.

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