More must be done to end disputes
State media has praised top-level intervention to defuse a high-profile revolt against local officials over a land grab in a Guangdong village. This may boost provincial governor Wang Yang's chances of elevation to the Politburo, but while it solved the immediate issue, the question of how the authorities will deal with such divisive land issues in future remains unresolved. Wang's personal emissary and deputy Guangdong party chief Zhu Mingguo sensibly allowed negotiations, but that should have happened much earlier. The villagers, from Wukan, Lufeng, called off a protest march after Zhu promised to release three young protesters, examine the death of a protest leader in custody and authorise a temporary village committee to negotiate a land deal. This is a step forward.
Provincial authorities deserve credit for the action they have taken to defuse the crisis peacefully. There is now a clear possibility of a solution being reached. But it is only the beginning. The People's Daily stated that rational complaints had escalated into extreme actions because local government did not take villagers' demands seriously. This is a rare - and welcome - departure from the hardline government position on dissent. The compromise offer, which would have had Beijing's blessing, came at a sensitive time, with a generational leadership change due next year. The question is whether the offer and the revised official version of events is not only a victory for the villagers, but sets a precedent for handling of riots by provincial authorities. It is not an academic question, because the outcome will raise expectations of villagers in similar situations around the country.
The exercise may be a good model for dealing with disputes once they have escalated into a confrontation, like another that is raging in the face of a huge police presence over plans to build a large coal-fired power plant near the township of Haimen, in Shantou, eastern Guangdong. Action only came in Wukan, however, after the detention of protesters and the death of a village leader. Communication and a conciliatory approach are needed earlier. The Wukan dispute, which the authorities had tolerated for months until the arrests two weeks ago, ended up being played out in front of an international media audience. There has to be a better mechanism for giving people just resolution of disputes through fair play, decency, transparency and conciliation without waiting for street protests, arrests and a death that inflamed emotions. The root causes of the disputes must be dealt with.
The party's top security official, Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, has urged authorities to try to resolve disputes at grass-roots level to prevent violence, and acknowledged the need for more effort to improve the system of mediation. This needs to be done and the efforts to treat villagers in Wukan fairly must continue.