Remove the gates and walls of China’s privileged communities

Respect for property rights is paramount to orderly development. But the rights of the individual must be reconciled with the rights and legitimate expectations of the majority

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 10:55pm

It is unusual for a courts to comment in advance on specific social issues they might be asked to rule on eventually. There is the perception of neutrality to consider. The State Council’s hotly disputed decision to throw open the gates to China’s many and often vast, privileged residential compounds – or gated communities – is an exception, with the Supreme Court having staked out an interest already.

The government’s aim is to reverse the adverse effects of haphazard urbanisation, by improving traffic flows, raising air quality and reducing construction waste, among other things. Many home owners say this violates their security and property rights over private roads which also apply to other common areas – although some experts believe the government can expropriate the land in the public interest.

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Asked to comment, Cheng Xinwen, chief judge of the First Civil Tribunal of the Supreme People’s Court, said legislation would be needed and “[the court] will step up research and make timely judgment on the impact, coordination and protection of rights of the relevant parties”. Under the government directive, no more gated compounds will be built, and all new projects will have to follow the public street grid system. Roads and common areas in existing gated compounds will be opened to the public.

Respect for property rights is paramount to the orderly development of China. But, if there is to be a sustainable level of social equity and cohesion, the rights of the individual must be reconciled with the rights and legitimate expectations of the majority. If, just three generations after the establishment of the People’s Republic, successful or privileged people were seen to live in compounds that are closed to others, what kind of country is it going to become?

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China cannot accept gated communities indefinitely. But the government must courageously address issues that gave rise to them, like poor urban planning, ambiguous property laws and security concerns amid a widening wealth gap. On the other hand, officials also need to clearly explain policies and pace the implementation of reform to safeguard social stability. They have to create the right conditions for eliminating gated communities. Thankfully, they have sought to reassure affected owners by saying the plan is going to be implemented at a slower pace.

The reality is that without a clear property law and good urban planning, and improved security, it’s not going to happen. That said, removing the gates and walls to privileged communities should remain a long-term national goal.