BEIJING China risks growing social instability and even violence if the government does not take effective action to address rising public anger about forced evictions and demolitions, a report released Monday said.
The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, a China-based rights lobby, said the country's rapid economic growth over the past few years had produced "a pandemic of illegal demolition," with corrupt officials often colluding with developers.
"This increase in property rights violations, predominantly related to forced evictions and demolitions, is one of the leading causes of instability in China today," it said.
The discontent generated by demolitions is huge.
Rights groups have repeatedly criticized the government for not doing enough to prevent forced evictions, especially when people are made to make way for large-scale events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and this year's Shanghai World Expo.
The government has strongly denied such accusations in connection with the Olympics and Expo but, in a bid to ease tensions, earlier this year it released a draft replacement for current regulations governing evictions.
Property disputes in a country where the government legally controls all land can lead to rowdy protests, fights with police, imprisonment and even suicide.
The report documented a case in the eastern province of Shandong where it said thugs tormented villagers to get them to agree to give up their land for development, including blocking access to the village and attacking residents.
The police ignored calls for help, a local court found for the developers and the villagers' homes ended up being demolished, it said.
Petitioners who manage to reach Beijing to press the central authorities for redress for such abuses in almost all cases get nowhere, the report said.
"In the rare cases where an official in Beijing agrees with the petitioner and asks the local government to take action, the local government often fails to respond, despite being legally required to do so," it said.
The report said the new demolition rules, which the government has yet to put into effect formally, were a step in the right direction but still had problems.
"A positive sign for the future is that the promulgation of the new demolition regulations and the debate surrounding their contents has brought the issue back onto the public and government agenda," it said.
"What is needed is a fundamental re-think of government policy on property rights, public housing and the role of the state," the report added.
"If the current system is not amended relatively promptly and properly ... the level of violent conflicts is certain to increase," it said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)