Rule of Law

Trampled under the foot of development: Chinese citizens fight for fair compensation

(June 4, 2010) Chinese citizens being forcefully evicted from their homes are continuing their fight to receive fair compensation from developers and local officials. A month after homeowners were pushed from their homes to make way for the Pubugou dam reservoir in China’s Sichuan province, 700 homeowners in Beijing’s Laogucheng neighbourhood are refusing to leave—even as they face assaults by window-smashing thugs—until they receive fair compensation from a powerful developer.

The homeowners’ refusal to make way for unchecked development without receiving fair compensation can be seen as a test of proposed policies that will strengthen individual property rights and make it harder for local officials to seize land and hand it over to developers. The proposed policies are a response to homeowners across the country fighting forceful eviction as developers and local officials sought to cash in the country’s housing boom.

Whether the proposed policies will be enforced or implemented remains to be seen.

According to a recent report in the New York Times, confiscation of land nominally owned by the state, but farmed or occupied by the poor, has been a major source of unrest for the past two decades. But a recent property boom has made the problem even worse. In Beijing alone, officials plan to demolish 60 areas like Laogucheng this year—which will affect more than 180,000 residents and has sparked a number clashes.

Local governments are particularly interested in redevelopment, as they control much of the land and land sales account for a large chunk of their revenues—more than 60 percent according to some private estimates. China’s 70 biggest cities reaped more than $158.1-billion in lands sales last year alone.

But those profits have come at the expense of ordinary citizens, as the regulations proposed two years ago to strengthen individual rights have stagnated in the legislative affairs office of the State Council, China’s cabinet. Without enforced or updated laws, local officials push new development sites at their own discretion and leave the negotiations concerning compensation to developers and demolition companies—who often low-ball buy-outs, cut off utilities and hire thugs to terrorize homeowners.

According to the NYT, some scholars say the government is torn: though they fear evictions will incite social instability, they are loathe to curb development, which would cut their revenues in the process.

Brady Yauch, Probe International, June 4, 2010

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