Wed, February 16, 2011
China > Politics

Cautious steps to land reform(2)

2011-02-16 07:27:46 GMT2011-02-16 15:27:46(Beijing Time)  Global Times

Arable land in rural Chengdu. Photo: CFP

"That raises a question," Qiao said. "Although farmers will have better social benefits and live in town, they have to give up their old job and it's impossible for them to take a daily commute to tend their fields.

"So will they adapt to a new job in town? What if they don't? There's no going back."

Chengdu's reform method does a better job of answering Qiao's big question. Rural residents who take up the hukou deal and move to an urban area can legally retain their parcel of land until their original land contract was over, according to Chengdu government.

"That makes sure if farmers regret their move, they can still go back," said Qin Daihong, deputy director of the city coordination committee.

"However, this preferential policy is just temporary and land reform is crucial and must be carried out."

Industrial parks work best when factories concentrate together on a broad, clearly delineated zone of land available to all uses.

Converting the rural to industrial land involves three seemingly quite simple steps:

1) Hand over construction-use land currently used by rural residents mostly for their housing;

2) Hand over residents' arable land; and

3) Construct an industrial park.

Ideally, rural neighbors would originally all live together on the same land and then all move out together to shiny new urban apartment complexes, making the transition smooth and easy.

More likely, their various houses and various parcels of arable land are dotted about in different areas with different ownership and usage rights.

Beijing has no desire to return to the days when China imported food. More farsighted national leaders are therefore seeking to draw a line in the sand where arable land is concerned: Fields for crops cannot be changed into factories or other inappropriate uses under Chinese law.

The obvious solution is land swaps: A parcel of surplus construction-use land is reclassified to arable use only.

Then an equal-size parcel of arable land that the authority wants to exploit is converted to construction use.

Thus the letter of the law is maintained and the government has "moved" the arable land out somewhere else, freeing up a solid, consistent chunk of land for an industrial park.

But ideal is ideal. Reality is the reason cities pioneer pilot programs: Both Chengdu and Chongqing governments proffer three types of compensation to those rural residents willing to give up their land:

○ Shares in the future industrial park built on their land;

○ Cash from a developer's auction of their land; or,

○ Cash.

So far the farmers aren't buying.

"I only know my land is being taken away," said a farmer surnamed Lin from the village of Gaobei near Chengdu. "I don't want to live in the city or a residential compound with other people.

"I just want to be a farmer and stick to the traditional ways."

Forced relocation

Many villagers have actually been forcibly relocated, Lin said, fanning his deep mistrust and aversion toward official policies and promises.

A Chengdu government spokesman refused to comment on these forced relocations.

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