Land Laws 'Not Enough'

Local officials in China need to start abiding by the country's laws, experts say.

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zhejiang-land-305.jpg Land protesters block a road in Anji county, Zhejiang province, July 9, 2010.

HONG KONG—New Chinese regulations governing compensation in land acquisitions are unlikely to help rural evictees unless local governments start abiding by the law of the land, experts said.

The new regulations were announced as police clashed with protesters in the eastern province of Zhejiang after they blocked a major road in Anji county amid a dispute over compensation and environmental pollution.

Several hundred security personnel were called in after villagers blocked a road with rocks, a local resident surnamed Xia said.

Cancer patient Jiang Miaotu protested by lying atop the makeshift barricade, and later by trying to file a complaint with local authorities.

"Several hundred people came," he said. "They lifted me up against my will and carried me away."

"I went to the police station and the local complaints office, but the police said I was acting against the law," Jiang said.

China's Ministry of Land and Resources has called on local officials to make transparent the compensation of families evicted from their land to make way for property developments, a phenomenon that has led to tens of thousands of disputes and clashes every year.

Poor implementation

Jiangsu-based rights activist Zhang Jianping, who heads a nongovernment group called Rights Movement, said that Beijing has issued plenty of laws and guidelines regulating the acquisition of land by local governments, but that none has yet been properly implemented.

"We think that they are in fact having the opposite effect," Zhang said.

"In the case of violent evictions, there is no option for compensation, and we are seeing these cases get worse and worse."

Local residents across China have complained of being thrown out of their houses in the middle of the night, with scant warning and no compensation, and of being threatened with violence if they try to complain.

Beijing Institute of Technology professor Hu Xingdou, said local officials passively oppose any attempt to regulate land requisitioning by local authorities.

"Right now I think that the central government really does want to sort out the problems that are being caused by the requisitioning of land and the conflicts that arise over land disputes," Hu said.

"The central government wants social stability. The local governments' aim is probably their GDP figures, and maintaining revenue streams," he said.

China's cash-strapped local governments rely on lucrative property deals to boost local revenue, with much of the money intended for farmers' compensation packages finding its way instead into the hands of corrupt officials.

"There were disputes between farmers and government agencies over land expropriation, usually because of the embezzlement of compensation funds," the state-run English-language newspaper the Global Times wrote in a recent commentary on the new rules.

"It shows the urgent need to guarantee farmers the right for proper compensation," the paper said.

Gradual increases

The new rules require that local governments raise the level of compensation every two to three years.

They also order local governments to pay full compensation to farmers in a timely manner, based on the finalized plan for land compensation and resettlement fees "to avoid the funds being stolen."

Zhang said the situation on the ground in property disputes is very different from that envisaged in government laws and regulations on the subject.

"In evictions, they don't just cut off your water and electricity; it's an entire operation run along mafia lines," he said.

"If you go and report it to the [relevant authorities] or to the police, it will get you nowhere."

"They won't take responsibility for implementing their own laws. This is widely known ... To this day, the Property Rights Law exists in letter only," he said.

Both Zhang and Hu blamed China's unequal land rights system in which urban land is owned by the state and can be leased by an individual, but in which rural land is collectively owned, making it harder for individual families to defend their rights against aggressive developers and officials.

"Farming communities can't hold the rights to their land, and can't even rely on their land use rights. And so they can't command market prices for land that is requisitioned from them, and there is no basis for negotiation between the two parties, either," Hu said.

'Weaknesses in the system'

"It is all unilaterally decided by the government. This has led to a whole gamut of conflict."

Zhang agreed, calling for a system in which farmers are given stakes in collectively owned land equivalent to shareholdings.

"We have to look at weaknesses in the system," he said.

"One is the problem of land rights, to enable farmers to hold onto their land, to become shareholders with all the rights that entails, and the other is to leave the government the role of a mediator."

Hu said that the collective system of land ownership in the countryside allows officials to set the price of land for compensation purposes.

"The farmers have no choice but to accept it," he said. "If they don't accept it, and if they petition about it, they will be attacked and oppressed."

"The local governments need to abide by the law and put an end to the whole range of illegal evictions that take place today," he said.

"The judiciary needs to act as an arbiter. The right of citizens to use the justice system is the last line of defense for social justice."

Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and He Ping. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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