Forced land seizure policy needs revision

By Wang Xixin (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-13 08:23
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A year ago, after Tang Fuzhen died after setting herself ablaze to protest the demolition of her house in Southwest China's Sichuan province, four of my colleagues and I decided to write to the top legislature - the National People's Congress - to suggest revisions to the urban housing demolition regulation.

Forced land seizure policy needs revision
Wang Xixin believes the home demolition regulation revision involves some of the most essential issues of China's reform: modernization, urbanization and industrialization. [China Daily]

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After a year of waiting, a second draft revision has been published to solicit public opinions, but new, effective regulations still have yet to be released.

New policies often result in interest reapportionments. In this way, the demolition regulation's revision is typical of China's reform. It means a readjustment of core interests: if one party gains in favor of its interests, it is at the expense of others' interests.

Since the implementation of China's Property Law in 2007, parties who were enjoying the enormous added value of land have been faced with new rules. The revised demolition regulation is significant among these.

It involves some of the most critical issues of China's reform - modernization, urbanization and industrialization.

What I most worry about is that when the new regulation is finally published, people will discover that, although they tried hard to participate, they were, in the end, just audience members of the process.

Regulation revisions should be open

I have been advocating the creation of legislation be open to public participation. And people were, in various ways, allowed to participate in the revision over the past year.

Most legislation in China starts with senior legislators' internal research and discussions. We scholars write letters to push them. And during our contact with some senior legislators, we have received the impression they are also motivated to push forward the revision.

Since we wrote our first proposal, the State Council Legislative Affairs Office has asked for public input after publishing two draft revisions. This is unprecedented in the history of the country's administrative regulation legislation and shows legislators desire to listen to the public.

After the first draft was released last January, some local governments were worried, especially about such stipulations as: "The confiscation of housing to improve living conditions requires the consent of at least 90 percent of residents."

All confiscations and demolitions involve the restructuring of the interests of the government, businesspeople and residents.

What I see in the second draft is a tendency to better balance these three parties' interests.

Local governments' interests are not illegal

I've received many visits and calls from people grappling with forced demolitions. They all say they are awaiting the new regulation and want to know why it is taking so long.

The country has long talked about reforming the organization of the system and of reforming the politics. These cannot be separated, as political decisions are often needed to generate changes.

No group is willing to sacrifice its interests during reforms.

Since 1994's tax reform, local governments' tax revenues have continued to decline. But regional development requires money, and many local governments have since counted on money from land sales.

In addition, local officials are pressed to rapidly and smoothly develop their local economies. Land is an important instrument of economics and social stability.

Here, we see very solid and reasonable regional interests.

If the new regulation is adopted this year, the short-term goal should be ensuring implementation.

In addition, the process of developing legislation regulating rural land seizures should be expedited. Farmers are very concerned with the new regulation but it only applies to urban housing.

Over the long term, a law covering property confiscations in urban and rural areas is needed.

Social conflicts need to be reduced

Various agents of change have been active in pushing forward the revision. These include media, academia and the public.

These players share an important characteristic - that is, practically no decision-making power.

Society seems to share a common understanding of the issue, but that has not blossomed into collective action.

That is because no group will easily agree to rescind its positions during the structuring of interests.

The cultivation of common understanding shows Chinese enjoy more freedom to express their beliefs. But it is insufficient to generate meaningful social action, as these groups lack decision-making power.

Moving away from social understanding creates conflicts. This becomes obvious when looking at the past year's bloody battles over demolitions.

If there is no change to the status quo, the constancy of conflicts will cost society a high price.

As a scholar, I do not engage in emotional criticism. But if no real change happens, or if the change is not what the public expected, I wonder how the government could face the people's crushing disappointment.

There is no divine decision-maker whose plans can satisfy everyone. But I wish there could be an open platform so every participant can enjoy a sense of cooperative engagement in enhancing the reform.

The author is one of the five Peking University law professors who openly suggested revisions to existing urban housing demolition regulation.