China’s rural land right on the agenda

Premier Wen Jiabao called for protection of farmers’ land rights when he visited the southern province of Guangdong (WSJ). Conflicts on the allocation of land rights have existed for a long time and needs a solution. Premier Wen appealed that farmers should have a real collective say in the land allocation. But no one knows when the social tension will be great enough to induce this great reform.

“We must certainly protect the voting rights of farmers, and be unwavering in properly carrying out village self-governance and direct election of village committees,” said Premier Wen.

Currently land is managed by local governments, and they often auction off the land to developers at a very high price. It’s seen as a measure for the local governments to compensate for the fiscal deficits. The local governments are increasingly detached from the farmers’ interests. Farmers’ “collective ownership” of the land is vaguely defined and is indeed empty. When farmers do not even possess their most important means of production, they are bound to fight for it.

The rising number of “mass incidents” caused by land rights problems are a warning to the Communist Party as it claims to represent the interests of the Poletarian. If the government has become too much of a rent-seeker, the public are likely to take collective action to correct it, sometimes in violent ways.

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