China's central government has ordered local governments to reduce significantly the number of old buildings they demolish for new property developments this year, in an attempt to stem a mounting tide of social unrest and protests linked to relocation, RFA reports.
Governments at various levels in the hierarchy "should strictly control the area of demolition and relocation and ensure that the total area demolished nationwide this year is distinctly less than that of last year," according to a directive issued by China's cabinet, the State Council.
Slowing the rate of destruction of old buildings also would help check over-investment in new construction, said the statement, which was posted on the Web site of the Construction Ministry June 16.
The directive also ordered authorities at every level to check the work of those at the level below them, particularly on the sensitive topic of the transfer of land used for agricultural purposes for redevelopment.
It made specific mention of the People's Liberation Army production companies, or bingtuan, the units of command that enable Beijing to maintain key areas and exploit rich resources in the largely Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Last week, about 1,000 farmers, forestry workers, and herdsmen from the Kapchigay forestry farm protested outside the offices of a reservoir and water power station project on the Tikas branch of the Ili River, in the sensitive Ili border region of Xinjiang. Police detained around 50 protesters for opposing plans to build a hydropower project that would deprive them of their land.
The State Council directive also repeated central government warnings that new investments claiming to meet urban planning requirements, or educational and health needs should be carefully investigated before referral to the next level of the approvals process.
And it banned the common practice of forcibly evicting residents by cutting off water, electricity, or heating. State media would be given more leeway to report on illegal demolitions but were told not to aggravate tension between residents and demolition teams, it said.
China has seen a growing wave of popular protests resulting from disputes over compensation, relocation, and the use of land used for subsistence farming in recent years. Local officials frequently treat land in their jurisdiction as a resource available to suit their own agendas, and often employ heavies in the guise of relocation agencies to carry out their plans.
According to an official count published by the Chinese Communist Party in March, more than 2.3 million people took part in petitions, marches, and sit-ins in urban areas in 2003, with the number of demonstrations totaling 12,370.
In rural areas, 8,124,260 people participated in 8,763 demonstrations. Provinces with assemblies larger than 1 million participants included Henan, Liaoning, Hubei, and Hunan. Provinces with assemblies larger than half a million participants included Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Hebei, Shandong, Shaanxi, and Heilongjiang.
A large proportion of these protests are likely to have been related to relocation issues.
China punished a number of officials last month for letting Jiangsu Tieben Iron Co illegally obtain land and secure a 4.3 billion yuan ($520 million) credit line from a Bank of China branch to build a new plant.