Minister must step carefully to balance interests

By Wang Qian (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-09 08:31
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Minister of Land and Resources Xu Shaoshi has likely experienced awkwardness and anxiety at the group discussions of this year's National People's Congress (NPC) session.

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Regional governments are pushing central authorities to approve more land for construction to accelerate economic development - a theme encapsulated in the recent proposal by a NPC deputy from Shaanxi province.

The demands are mounting, but so are concerns about the impact such moves would have in areas such as the environment.

Xu's position requires him to determine the balance between protecting shrinking amounts of arable land and the growing construction demand that accompanies rapid economic growth.

So far, all Xu has done during the discussions is nod, smile, jot down notes and occasionally scratch his head.

The shrinkage of arable land has kept pace with the past three decades of unprecedented economic growth.

According to the NPC's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, urbanization and industrialization have gobbled up about 8.2 million hectares of arable land since 1997.

This is not the first time Xu has had to deal with this dilemma.

It is like the old Chinese saying: "One cannot get fish and bear's paws at the same time", which means, "You have to choose one or the other".

Xu has no choice but to find a win-win model in which local governments get the land they need for development while leaving the country's 120 million hectares of arable land untouched to ensure food supplies.

Xu attended group discussions in Shaanxi on Saturday and in Qinghai province on Sunday, where he listened to NPC deputies. The provinces are the only two he had chosen to visit.

Although the discussions' theme was the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) draft, the NPC deputies from Shaanxi and Qinghai provinces used the precious opportunity to talk about how difficult it is to develop local economies without freeing up enough land.

The first speakers of both group discussions talked a great deal about the land shortages and their close connection with local economic development.

After two and a half hours of discussion, reporters rushed in to encircle the official, asking him slews of land policy questions. It took him more than five minutes to make the 5-meter trip to his car.

China's ministers face challenges with every step they take, especially during the two sessions.