A funny thing happened on the way to the Third Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee, where China’s Communist Party leaders were expected to finally enact a bold land reform program allowing farmers eventually to buy, sell or lease their fields.
Coverage of reform issues had been stepped up in the official press. And President Hu Jintao made a high-profile trip to rural Anhui province, where state media said he told farmers that they would be able to transfer their land rights.
Yet by the time the closed-door meeting wrapped up Sunday, the issue had all but disappeared from public view. It wasn’t even mentioned in the final communique from the 368-member decision-making body.
Scholars and analysts inside and outside of China are discussing this week why the leaders have remained silent on the issue. When the Communist Party’s annual four-day planning session began last Thursday, officials in attendance began reviewing a draft of a sweeping land reform policy that President Hu Jintao was believed to have been backing.
Scholars and government advisers said the proposed policy centered around two major changes: allowing peasants to engage in the unrestricted trade, purchase and sale of land-use contracts, and extending those contracts to 70 years from 30 years. Senior leaders including Mr. Hu intended to push the policy changes through at the session, scholars and advisers said.
But the communiqué issued on Sunday night did not mention that particular land reform policy. Instead, the party said broadly that it was adopting a rural reform policy that would double the per capita disposable income of farmers by the year 2020. Xinhua, the state news agency, said in general terms that the government planned to “set up a ‘strict and normative’ land management system in the countryside.”