After recent protests by residents in Wukan village due to anger over farmland confiscations, Premier Wen Jiabao called for better protection of farmers’ land rights on a visit to Guangdong province. Wen did not mention the Wukan protests. Reuters India reports:
The Chinese premier, who retires later this year, said he understood why villagers were often angry about land losses, and vowed to give real bite to protections that in theory give farmers a collective say in land development.
What is the widespread problem now? It’s the arbitrary seizure of farmers’ fields, and the farmers have complaints about this, and it’s even sparking mass incidents,” Wen said in Guangdong on Saturday, according to the Xinhua report.
“The root of the problem is that the land is the property of the farmers, but this right has not been protected in the way it should be,” said Wen.
Wen, who has cast himself as a defender of the struggling farmer, also vowed to make village committee elections — seen by many residents as an empty formality under the thumb of officials — into an authentic channel for public opinion.
Wen’s comments did not change the policy regarding land rights, but his statements seemed to be in support of Wang Yang, Guangdong’s provincial party secretary. The Wall Street Journal adds:
The comments, reported on Sunday, appeared to be a signal of support for Guangdong’s provincial party secretary, Wang Yang. Mr. Wang, who is widely viewed as among the most liberal of China’s top leadership, has embarked on a risky campaign to reduce official rural corruption by making significant concessions to protesting villagers, and allowing former protest leaders in Wukan to take up key posts in the village government.
Mr. Wang is vying for a spot on China’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee in a leadership transition later this year. Some analysts say Mr. Wang’s political fate is tied in some degree to the success of grass-roots democracy in Wukan. The case has galvanized national attention, and has been widely debated on China’s popular social networking sites in recent weeks.
Analysts say Mr. Wang’s model in Wukan likely faces resistance elsewhere in China among local leaders who fear unhappy residents across China will be emboldened by the apparent victory of Wukan’s villagers.
Protests in Wukan began in September, and centered on alleged land grabs by local officials. They escalated dramatically in December after a protest leader, Xue Jinbo, died while in police custody. The protests only subsided after Mr. Wang sent one of his top lieutenants to the village to make concessions to protest leaders.
Read much more about Wukan via CDT.