Monday, December 19, 2011

"Eminent domain" in China

What is going on in Wukan? The Guadian:
After continuous confrontation between villagers and local officials for almost four months, the land grab in the fishing village of Wukan, in Guandong province, China, has now led to the death of one of the elected village leaders in police custody, and further escalated into a violent "mass incident" with tens of thousands of farmers protesting against local officials.
The Wukan case is just one of many mass incidents China has experienced in recent years. In fact, the number keeps rising every year; journalists often cite a figure of 87,000 for 2005, estimates by the China Academy of Social Sciences give a figure of "over 90,000" mass incidents in 2006, and further unspecified increases in 2007 and 2008.
In China, a mass incident is defined as "any kind of planned or impromptu gathering that forms because of internal contradictions", including mass public speeches, physical conflicts, airing of grievances, or other forms of group behaviour that may disrupt social stability. Among China's mass incidents, more than 60% have been related to land disputes when local governments in China worked closely with manufacturers and real-estate developers to grab land from farmers at low prices.

In a drive to industrialise and urbanise, thousands of industrial parks and many thousands of real estate development projects have been, or are being, built at the costs of dispossessed farmers. The land requisition system deprives three to four million farmers of their land every year, and around 40-50 million are now dispossessed.
The Wukan case says a lot about the serious tension between state and society in the fast urbanising China. It is difficult to play the land requisition game fairly under the current system, since farmers are neither allowed to negotiate directly on the compensation package, nor are they allowed to develop their own land for non-agricultural purposes. They have to sell their land to local government first, which defines the price then leases the land to industrial and commercial/residential users for a profit. As land prices keep rising in China, it is not surprising that farmers with rising expectations are becoming increasingly unhappy. As a result, mass incidents, sometimes as violent as in Wukan, are inevitable.
The Diplomat:
A Chinese village under siege after an almost unheard uprising against Communist Party officials has warned that it will march on the area’s main administrative town if the body of one of the village’s protest leaders isn’t returned.
The revolt broke out in Wukan after local officials announced that Xue Jinbo, one of the leaders of a protest against an official land grab, had died in police custody. Reports from the fishing village of about 20,000 people suggested locals had chased out officials and established their own roadblocks, guarding entrances to stop security forces detaining more residents or trying to re-establish the government’s control over the area.
The Telegraph reported that officials responded by holding the village to ransom. “[O]fficials have ratcheted up pressure on the rebel village…by allegedly ransoming four men who were seized from the village last week,” it reported.
Police are also said to have created a blockade in an effort to starve out the villagers.

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