State Council May Clamp Down on Land Grabs

Esther Fung and Tom Orlik of The Wall Street Journal call attention to a legislative development that may signal the Chinese government’s intention to step up its crackdown on illegal land grabs:

In a little-noticed move, a meeting of China’s State Council, the top government decision-making body, last week backed an amendment to the land-management law. Details remain sketchy, and the law is still to be approved by China’s National People’s Congress. But experts say that the change will make it more difficult for local officials to requisition land, and raise the level of compensation farmers receive when land is taken in the public interest.

Li Ping, an expert on China’s land law at rural-development institute Landesa, said this was a significant move. “China has abusive land takings every day; protests in the countryside are common, some of them putting lives at risk. The revision will strengthen farmers land tenure and help improve the situation.”

The shift is seen as a priority for China’s departing Premier Wen Jiabao, who headed up the State Council meeting. Mr. Wen has tried to give rural-development policies a stronger emphasis, and has enjoyed some success—including the abolishment of agricultural taxes, though past gestures on land reform have done little to change the system.

Land grabs have long been a source of social angst and the cause of many of the growing number of “mass incidents” in China, but the issue came to the fore following a late 2011 standoff between upset villagers and security forces in the Guangdong village of Wukan. Reuters reported the move by China’s cabinet last week, quoting a Xinhua News report claiming that “rural land has been expropriated too much and too fast” and that “the government must make efforts to beef up support for farmers and place rural development in a more important position.”

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