High price to pay for brazen profits

Updated: 2012-05-09 13:49

By Huang Xiangyang (China Daily)

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A delay caused by a single person's opposition means the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will now have to pay a lot more than it expected for the construction of the cross-sea bridge linking it with Zhuhai and Macao.

Chu Yee-wah, a 66-year-old Hong Kong resident, threw a spanner in the works in 2010 by seeking a judicial review, citing flaws with the SAR government's environmental impact assessment.

By the time the Court of Appeal overturned the initial ruling in her favor nearly two years later and cleared the way for work on the project to proceed, the budget of the mammoth project had increased by an astronomical HK$8.8 billion ($1.13 billion) as a result of rising costs and the prolonged schedule.

For many on the mainland Chu's story will sound like a fairy tale as once a project is determined to start, no one can stop it or delay it. In forced demolitions across the country thugs have been called in to intimidate people and bulldozers have demolished people's homes from under them.

Among the Chinese residents who have helplessly seen their homes pulled down without adequate compensation, Wang Jinwen has captured media headlines because he is a doctorate candidate in law at Tsinghua University. He embarked on a long journey in search of justice after his ancestral home in the countryside of Shandong province was torn down one dark night in 2010.

Wang received a final document from the State Council recently declaring the project should be reviewed, overturning the ruling made by the provincial government. But it is too late, he has lost his house forever as new buildings have already been built where his home stood.

In an open letter to the local government he said: "I have studied law very hard for 10 years. I have always tried to solve my problem through legal means. I am a legal consultant to the villagers of my hometown.

"I have obtained all the evidence available and followed all the proper legal procedures. Yet I have failed to safeguard my legal rights. Do you think this is a success for China's laws and its legal system?"

Wang's misfortune is a stain on the country's collective conscience. And if this ugly trend is not tamed, what has happened to Wang could happen to any of us at any time. Recently I heard two of my relatives, one in Anhui province and the other in Yunnan province, face forced demolitions, but I was not even able to offer them even words of hope.

The current compensation regulation on land requisition, often disregarded by some officials at the grassroots level, makes farmers the biggest losers in the process of urbanization.

Money, of course, is behind the craze for property development. According to Song Xiaowu, head of the Income Distribution Research Institute affiliated to Beijing Normal University, his studies found local governments make 18 times more, and developers make 13 times more, than farmers out of land transfer deals.

That explains why many local governments are so enthusiastic about demolitions, and why there are 80,000 property developers nationwide. According to Forbes, more than half the country's wealthiest people are property developers.

With adequate profit, capital is very bold, Karl Marx noted. Now not only is it bold, it is getting increasingly brazen. Forced demolitions are the main complaint of the petitioners that come to Beijing seeking justice, and they have become a destabilizing factor threatening the harmonious society the central government has vowed to build.

Ministry of Agriculture figures suggest that about 266,000 hectares of arable land are lost every year in the country to construction and township expansion, which means an ever-growing number of farmers who have had to give up their land often unwillingly.

If this is the price we have to pay for modernization, it is a price too high to pay.

The author is a writer with China Daily. E-mail: huangxiangyang@chinadaily.com.cn