Farm seizures sow seeds of social unrest
A recent survey of residents in rural areas shows that 70 per cent of farmers are unhappy with their socio-economic situation, according to a report in the Beijing-based Outlook Magazine.
The poll, conducted by Renmin University's School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, listed land acquisitions as the No 1 problem leading to rural clashes, the magazine said in its lengthy report.
'If [the situation] isn't tackled properly, it will easily turn into direct clashes,' the Xinhua-run publication cited the surveyors as warning.
The report said the number of disputes over land use and acquisitions had been escalating since shortly after the country began a new round of fast economic growth in 2002.
'Events related to land acquisition and removal have reached new highs, spreading from once occurring in only east coast manufacturing hubs to inland western regions,' the report quoted a Renmin University professor of agriculture as saying.
The report said farmers were angry about having their land seized without sufficient compensation.
The report cited rural government officials and agricultural affairs experts as saying that land acquisitions had become the primary source of disputes in rural areas.
Local governments' overreliance on land sales for fiscal revenue and economic growth, which are the main criteria measuring officials' performance and deciding if they are to be promoted, were also the main reasons behind widespread disputes and abuses of power in land seizures, the report said.
Beijing's political leaders, obsessed with maintaining stability, have struggled to balance growth with public discontent, which often stems from corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs by local officials looking to boost development.
Stories of forced evictions and bloody protests in rural areas have been commonplace in recent years as cities sprawl outwards and more land is needed for industrial parks, housing, roads and railways.
The report also cited instances of clashes and riots over land seizures, along with the central government's stepped-up effort this year to stop local officials' abuse of power in land acquisitions.
Many farmers said they believed that local officials were in cahoots with developers to cheat them out of fair compensation and a share of the increased value of the land that comes from it being designated for industrial or commercial use.
Illegal and forced seizures have become the most common triggers of massive protests. Last month, protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute in Wukan village, Guangdong, turned violent, as residents smashed buildings, flipped vehicles and clashed with police.
The Ministry of Land and Resources recently found that more than 18,500 hectares of land had been misused in the first six months of the year. A third of it was former farmland that had been seized. Some 480 people were disciplined and 36 others faced criminal charges.