China says land abuse cases jump, plans greater oversight

HONG KONG Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:06am EST

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HONG KONG Feb 15 (Reuters) - Chinese authorities are moving to tighten oversight on illegal land development following a spike in land abuse cases last year, some of which garnered national attention and sparked violent standoffs, state media reported on Wednesday.

Chinese media reports noted that Chinese land ministry authorities had recently approached and held "secret" meetings with senior land officials in at least nine provincial governments nationwide, including in Guangzhou and Shanghai, to address and look into the abuses.

In 2011, there were 70,000 cases of illegal land usage, an increase of 5.8 percent on the year before, involving some 751,000 mu, a Chinese measure of land area equivalent to around 50,000 hectares, said China's Ministry of Land and Resources, according to the China News service.

The soaring cost of land and property prices in China have magnified the incentives for developers and officials to aggressively acquire land for new projects in cities and rural areas, sometimes antagonising local residents and villagers.

One prominent recent case involved the southern Chinese village of Wukan in the economic powerhouse of Guangdong province, when villagers rebelled against brazen land grabs in a longstanding standoff that was finally defused when provincial authorities under powerful Communist Party leader Wang Yang granted the villagers key concessions.

Wang must avoid serious policy mistakes damaging his prospects for promotion in a watershed China leadership change later this year that will see the likes of president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao retire to make way for new leaders.

The report noted that in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong, the supervisor of state land pledged to revisit illegal land usage cases to "comprehensively supervise and reform" the effectiveness of supervision and oversight, the China news service reported.

Land disputes do not directly threaten Communist Party rule, but underscore growing discontent.

Li Jianqin, a land resources enforcement director, reportedly said that due to great land demand and limited supply amidst rampant economic development, the number of illegal land use cases, especially for large-scale projects, was high, particularly in western China, the Economic Information Daily reported.

"For supervising land issues, a communication mechanism is crucial, and it's very important to see vigorous supervision at a regional level," Li said.

Of the 70,000 cases last year, some 42,000 cases were investigated and resulted in the return of 57,000 mu, or 3,800 hectares of land, the report added.

More than half of Chinese farmers are dissatisfied with rural policies, according to a recent survey that showed rising cases of agricultural land seizures by the state and a trend towards bigger farms as millions leave villages for work in cities. (Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and)

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