Government Backs Down To Wukan Villagers

Villagers removed protest banners in Wukan on Wednesday after officials agreed to concessions, including the release of three people detained for their alleged role in violent demonstrations against land-grabs, which bring an end to a standoff after the death of activist Xue Jinbo that lasted more than a week and tested the hard line authority of China’s Communist Party. From Reuters:

“Because this matter has been achieved, we won’t persist in making noise,” village organiser, Yang Semao, told an assembly hall of village representatives and reporters, referring to the protests. He said protest banners would be taken down.

“They’ve agreed to our initial requests,” Yang told Reuters. But he added a caveat: “If the government doesn’t meet its commitments, we’ll protest again.”

Senior officials negotiating with villagers agreed to release three men held over land protests in September, when a government office was trashed, and to re-examine the cause of Xue’s death, a village organiser said earlier.

Villagers delayed plans to march to the nearby administrative center of Lufeng after initial signs of a potential compromise emerged yesterday. The two top lieutenants of Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang who joined today’s talks were the first high-level officials to intervene in the conflict for several months, an indication that Wang seized control of the situation from ineffective local officials with his political future hanging in the balance, according to The New York Times:

The meeting was the first with province-level officials, and it contrasted sharply with the denunciations and threats of arrest that have defined the official response to the protests since the standoff began.

The negotiations were led by the deputy chief of the provincial Communist Party committee, Zhu Mingguo, and the party secretary of the administrative region of Shanwei, Zheng Yanxiong. Mr. Zhu is a top lieutenant to the provincial party secretary, Wang Yang, one of China’s most prominent political leaders and an unspoken candidate for a spot on China’s ruling body, the standing committee of the Politburo, when membership in the body, which now has nine seats, turns over next year.

Wang sympathized with the villagers in an interview with the Chinese media on Wednesday, according to The Guardian:

“There was something accidental about the Wukan incident, but also something inevitable,” Wang said, according to the report.

“This is the outcome of conflicts that accumulated over a long time in the course of economic and social development,” said Wang, who analysts believe hopes for a position in China’s next central leadership.

The China Media Project surveyed the Chinese-language news landscape and observed that the constructive tone from Wang and other high-level officials “contrasts starkly with remarks made yesterday by the top leader of the city of Shanwei,” Zheng Yanxiong. A video of Zheng making an angry speech lambasting foreign media has circulated widely in Chinese cyberspace. Still, a sense of cautious optimism has filled Wukan. While villagers appear to have won a rare victory against the government in one of the highest profile “mass incidents” to strike China in recent years, The Telegraph assesses the movement’s broader impact on state-society relations in China:

Never before in recent history has violent unrest by peasant villagers in China been seen to force a compromise by high-ranking Party officials.

Wukan’s violent path to successful self-determination – however brief it might last – is thought to divide opinion in the Central Government.

The leadership in Beijing has been keen to crack down publicly on corrupt officials, the main source of much unrest among ordinary Chinese.

Some modernisers are keen to see how the rebellion plays out and if it can be used as a benchmark for political reform to catch up with the economic boom.

The Wall Street Journal added that the events in Wukan may change how the Communist Party deals with future incidents:

The significance of the authorities’ unusual concession in Wukan depends on how the details are played out, but it could affect the way other protests are handled, particularly in the corner of coastal southern China that has seen periodic unrest over the last few years. To Wukan’s northeast, the coastal town of Haimen saw a second day of protests Wednesday over a planned coal-fired power plant.

Conflicts over land disputes and other issues in much of Guangdong province have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.

Underscoring the government’s concerns about public discontent, China’s security czar Zhou Yongkang met Wednesday with law and order officials and told them to improve the resolution of social conflicts and promote fair and honest law enforcement, state media reported.