Interests complicate legislation

Updated: 2011-01-13 08:22

By Wang Huazhong and Wang Jingqiong (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The proliferation of violent standoffs between local administrative authorities and residents over forced demolitions has pushed the central government to reform relevant regulations.

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However, 2010's reform attempts - characterized by the legislators' solicitation of public opinion twice, an unprecedented event in the legislative process - met resistance from various interests. This clouded the future of the 8-year-old Urban Housing Demolition Management Regulation's reform.

"Without forced demolitions, China cannot urbanize. Without urbanization, the country can't become a new China," an unnamed government official from Yihuang county in East China's Jiangxi province, said in a letter to the Caixin Weekly in October.

"Urban construction requires mass demolition ... governments cannot afford significant increases in compensation paid to residents," he wrote in the letter, which was then published.

Chen Xiaoping, Party chief of Wanzai county, Jiangxi province, echoed the official in November. He challenged a scholar, who had urged local governments to halt forced demolitions, by asking: "Without forced demolitions, what will you intellectuals eat?"

Experts point out GDP growth and economic gains fed by property seizures enable local officials to move up the career ladder.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences professor of rural research Yu Jianrong said provincial and city governments consent to lower level governments' illegal demolitions, because the "credit" of improved balanced sheets is shared with higher government levels.

But the social cost has become too great to ignore.

China's top think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in its annual report that land disputes have emerged as rural China's most volatile social problem, as forced acquisitions have been generating growing social unrest.

Several cases have proven particularly disturbing to the citizenry.

Cui Dexi, a 56-year-old from Mishan city, in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, set himself on fire during a conflict with about 100 local officials, policemen and housing developers, who wanted to demolish Cui's house for a real estate project in November.

Residents in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region alleged that bullets were attached to four notices posted on their residential buildings' walls in July. The notices reportedly said that every resident who refused to move out by the end of July would receive a "gift from the company" - "a bullet".

Residents reportedly fought back with slingshots, bottles of gasoline and even improvised rockets.

Yang Youde, a 56-year-old farmer living on the outskirts of Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, has twice fired improvised rocket-like weapons at demolition teams trying to evict him since February.

These tragic confrontations occurred after the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office published a draft of the demolition regulation to solicit public opinion last January.

The first draft focused on compensation standards and demolition procedures.

But the amendment was bombarded, as scholars argued a stipulation that permitted the destruction of homes for "nonpublic interests" violated the country's Constitution.

Item No 40 read: "To demolish housing for construction for nonpublic interests, the constructors, such as real estate developers, must receive permission from relevant governments."

Peking University professor Wang Xixin, a co-author of the letter sent to the legislature, said: "If the new guidelines do not make real changes concerning this element, the draft revision is just a technical, rather than a real, change to the original."

Item No 28 was also attacked as being unfair to house owners. It stipulated that those who disagree with the compensation offered may sue, but the demolition could still be executed during the lawsuit.

The solicitation of public ideas ended in March, and no further development was reported until December. The period of silence led media to suspect the revision had been "strangled in the cradle".

The delayed implementation of a draft revision to property requisition regulations is due to resistance from local governments, many of which make money by selling land, experts have said.

But a letter from the Legislative Affairs Office attached to the second draft version released in December said legislators had been busy working on the second revision.

The second proposal revokes governments' administrative powers to force demolitions.

It instead defines the process as a judicial one and shifts the power to the courts.


Interests complicate legislation


Some of 2010's top property battles

In March, an elderly woman in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, was buried alive in a ditch for trying to prevent the forcible demolition of her house.

In March, 68-year-old villager Tao Huixi and his 92-year-old father set themselves on fire to protest the forced demolition of their pig farm by the government of Lianyungang, East China's Jiangsu province. Tao died in the incident.

On June 1, Liu Danao, a villager in Zhengzhou city, in Central China's Henan province, drove a truck into a demolition crew, killing four and injuring 16.

Residents are suspected of blowing up a liquefied gas container to attack officials visiting residents' homes to persuade them to relocate in an old town in Kunming, capital of Southwest China's Yunnan province, in August. Ten people were injured.

One person was killed and another two injured when three members of a family surnamed Zhong doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves ablaze to protest a forced demolition in Yihuang, in East China's Jiangxi province, on Sept 10.

Villagers in Jiangsu province's Sihong county were forced to live in pigsties or sleep on the streets in December, after they discovered their relocation compensations were too meager for new houses.

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