Report points to local opposition to Beijing’s land reform efforts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 1:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 3:07pm

The Communist Party is unlikely to introduce breakthrough land reform measures at a key party conference in November which would make more rural land available to feed China’s voracious urbanisation needs, according to a report by China Real Estate News.

Quoting unidentified sources at the Ministry of Land and Resources, the Beijing-based newspaper said that documents about a pilot scheme had been distributed to local governments in 18 provinces and municipalities. However, it said the documents would remain “in the consultation stage,” and that the scheme was unlikely to be introduced as a formal policy at the Third Plenum of the Communist Party’s 18th Congress, expected to open in November.

Specifically, the scheme aims at making more non-farming land in rural areas tradeable and thus available for building apartment blocks, shopping malls, roads and airports. The Chinese government has enacted strict laws banning the encroachment on farming land for urbanisation purposes, but policy makers and developers have for years eyed other types of rural land less protected by existing laws as the answer to China’s exploding urbanisation needs.

This includes land on which farmers’ own houses stand as well as land reserves for “rural collective constructions.”

“The central leadership is concerned that the transfer of collective construction land could lead to a large number of farmers losing their land [and this could] become a factor of social instability. This is why the State Council has always refrained from taking a clear stand on the issue,” the paper quoted the source as saying.

Thousands of disputes, many of them violent or even fatal, arise in rural China each year as local governments or village officials collude with developers to forcibly take land from farmers for lucrative housing or commercial development projects, but paying farmers far less than what they demand. Along with disputes over environmental pollution, land rights disputes have become a leading source of social unrest in the country. 

“On the other side, allowing the transfer of collective construction land would require disrupting the local government’s monopoly on land. The opposing voices from all over the country are relatively strong,” the source added.

Land reform is controversial as local governments have often turned to land sales to replenish their empty coffers. With massive debts amounting to 20 trillion yuan, according to one recent estimate by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher Liu Yuhui, these administrative divisions are hesitant to give away revenue from land sales.

Reform of the controversial household registration system would take precedence at the meeting, the report said.

The party’s third plenum is expected to follow tradition and announce reform measures which would guide economic development during President Xi Jinping’s first term in office.

At the Third Plenum in 1978, the 11th Central Committee under Deng Xiaoping launched market reforms and repudiated the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. At the Third Plenum of the 14th Central Committee, Premier Zhu Rongji announced China’s transformation into a “socialist market economy”.