Three Gorges Probe

New migrants, same story: villagers in Sichuan protest relocation packages

(September 2, 2010) Chinese officials say they’ve learned from the mistakes made in resettling citizens for the construction of Three Gorges, but recent evidence, says Probe International, suggests otherwise.

While some commentators say the Chinese government has improved its relocation techniques since the controversial methods employed during the construction of the Three Gorges project, recent reports suggest it’s the same old story. According to a report from Global Times, residents in Pingshan country in China’s Sichaun province say the compensation packages being offered by the government are far too low.

Now, they’re holding out and refusing to sign contracts.

The dispute comes as villagers in the Xinhai village along the Jinshajiang River are being forced to make way for the nearby Xiangjiaba Dam—the third largest dam in China in terms of power generation—that is scheduled to go into operation in 2012.

But 56-year-old grocery shop owner Fan Daiyou says officials in charge of relocation are offering far too little. According to him, the relocation group insists on paying 535 yuan ($80) per square meter for their 10-year-old, 600-square-meter house—a price agreed on it 2008—while the cost of housing has increased up to 2,000 to 3,000 yuan per square meter over the last two years.

“With the compensation they offer us, our family cannot even afford a 50-square-meter apartment in the town they want to settle us,” he says. He is also not being compensated for his street shop, which he has been running since 1996—even though he has a government-issued licence.

Fan is just one of the 60,000 people across Pingshan County that will be relocated to a town 50 kilometers to the north. Many of the residents are unhappy about the relocation.

“Nobody wants to move from a fertile land to a place with less favorable natural conditions,” one of the villagers says. “The climate is different, so is the culture.”

Pointing to a state regulation saying the government will ensure migrants will be able to “maintain or surpass the existing living standard,” one villager says: “With the current approach from the county government, we cannot gain anything. From homeowners, we will probably become homeless.”

And in the county centre of Pingshan, it’s more of the same. Su Qihui, 69, a retired employee from a tea plantation, says “the policy of the central government is good, but it is no longer the same when it reaches the local level.”

“They ask us to pay 60 percent as first instalments for the new apartments at the resettlement town,” he said. “But we are a poverty-stricken county. Few people can afford it.”

Yang Pingzhen, 69, owner of a kitchenware shop says business has been dire since officials closed the old part of the town in May last year:  “Many of my customers have moved else-where,” she says. “Nobody will compensate us for the loss of business.”

When a reporter from Global Times tried to speak to officials in charge of resettlement issues from the Pingshan County Resettlement Bureau, he found answers far from forthcoming. After a blackboard in the office showed all of the 82 staff members were in, the reporter was told all of the leaders were in meetings and unavailable for an interview.

Eventually Zeng Xianzhang, deputy director of the publicity department, admitted to the reporters that, “resettlement work has [a] strong political nature, is extremely policy-guided and very sensitive.

“Since the Hanyuan incident in October 2004, the provincial government has strict regulations on the coverage of resettlement for hydropower projects,” he said.

The Hanyuan incident he is referring to is the protest by 20,000 villagers against the poor compensation packages they were offered to make way for the Pubugou Dam on the Daduhe River in western Sichuan.

Wen Weifu, 32, from publicity department, says that: “From the Three Gorges Dam project, we learnt that resettlement is the No. 1 difficult task.”

“Our policies today are no doubt more humane than in 1995.

“But people-oriented does not mean everybody-oriented,” he added. He says that a majority of the migrants see resettlement as a golden opportunity for a better life.

But according to the Global Times article, the reality of resettlement is far different, as “tensions are running high in Pingshan.” On June 2 displaced people from Loudong and Fuyan counties are reported to have protested at the Xiangjiaba Dam Project office—resulting in a violent clash with police and where dozens of people were injured.

Fan Xiao, the chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau in Chengdu, says the relocations process often overlooks the well-being of the migrants.

“Compensation and resettlement are decided between the government and developers,” he said. “It’s inevitable the interests of the migrants are hampered.”

Both Fan Xiao’s remarks and the Global Times article also paint a much different picture about forced relocations than the official state media. Indeed, a recent China Daily article quoted one migrant’s views of forced relocations for the massive South-North Water Diversion project (SNWD) in glowing terms: “I really want to relocate,” he is quoted saying, adding that, before a majority of the migrants lived in remote areas, but, “the relocation made our village move from the mountain to the plain. The transportation is much more convenient than before.”

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