Southern Weekend Publishes Review of China's Land Crisis in 2004

January 24, 2005

On December 30, Southern Weekend published a lengthy review of China’s land crisis and the development of land policy in 2004. According to the article, while the State Council decided to make land policy a priority early in the year, it instituted particularly stringent measures, including a ban on most new land transfers, in April after uncovering several egregious cases of illegal land transfers. According to the article, the State Council’s priorities during the six month ban on land transfers were to (1) conduct an inspection campaign to root out land abuses; (2) reform the land management system at the provincial level and below; and (3) devise a permanent regulation to tighten land policy that was eventually issued nine days before the ban expired. During the inspection campaign, the Ministry of Land and Resources reportedly used satellite imaging to examine the loss of arable land across the country and discovered shockingly large losses.

In late-December, Chinese land officials held a national work meeting in Beijing chaired by State Council member and land policy czar Zeng Peiyan to discuss the results of land rectification work in 2004. According to Ministry of Land and Resources vice-minister Li Yuan, China (1) suspended work on 70 percent of the country’s "development zones" and reduced 64.5 percent of the total area planned for development; (2) recovered 16 billion yuan of the 17.5 billion yuan in unpaid or misappropriated land requisition compensation (in a report published on January 13, officials claim to have recovered 17.35 billion yuan of this amount); and (3) handled more than 70,000 cases involving illegal land transactions.

Despite these reported achievements, MLR officials interviewed for the article expressed concern that land abuses would continue. While the central government implements tighter land policy, local governments protect development zones and develop countermeasures to dilute the effect of such measures. Punishments for land violations are too light, they argue, especially if officials can convince authorities that the violations were committed in the name of local economic development and not for personal gain. To encourage local officials to implement the center’s land policy, the State Council is reportedly set to include arable land preservation as a criterion for the evaluation of local officials.