China’s Wen Urges Farmer Rights Protection, End to Land Grab

Wen Urges Protection for Farmer Rights, Stop to Land Grabs
Villagers dismantle a tree barricade on a bridge leading into the village of Wukan, Guangdong Province, China. Photographer: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called on officials to better protect the rights of farmers and ensure they receive a bigger share of profits from the conversion of their land to industrial and residential use.

“We can no longer sacrifice farmers’ land ownership rights to reduce urbanization and industrialization costs,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported Wen as saying at an annual national work conference on rural affairs yesterday. “It’s both necessary and possible for us to significantly increase farmers’ gains from the increase in land value.”

Wen’s comments come as the ruling Communist Party seeks to alleviate social unrest, and after a two-week protest by residents of a southern Chinese village this month forced authorities to back down in a dispute over land. Strikes, demonstrations and other protests in China doubled to at least 180,000 in 2010 from 2006, according to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

The residents of the southern village of Wukan called off a protest march last week after a senior Communist Party official from Guangdong province promised to release villagers detained by police. About 8,000 Chinese workers in South Korean company LG Display Co.’s factory in eastern Nanjing city went on strike this week over pay, Chinese media reported today.

Year-end Bonuses

LG Display workers are unhappy with a cut in year-end bonuses and plans by the company to pay larger ones to Korean employees, according to, a news website run by Tencent Holdings Ltd. Bonuses were reduced to one month’s pay from three months’ last year, said, citing two unidentified workers. LG Display has started negotiating with the workers, said, citing an unidentified company official.

Claire Ohm, a Seoul-based spokeswoman at LG Display, declined to comment. The Nanjing government press department didn’t return calls.

China has ordered all levels of governments to help needy people while maintaining market order and social harmony ahead of New Year’s Day and the Chinese New Year that falls on Jan. 23, according to a separate Xinhua report posted on the government website yesterday. Authorities should enhance supervision targeting employers who default on payments to migrant workers from rural areas, it said.

More relevant legal provisions and judicial interpretations are needed to penalize employers that default on wages, according to a China Daily editorial on Dec. 8. Migrant workers in the construction industry are sometimes exploited by their employers and experience deferred wages leading to protests and suicides, it said.

Farmers Rights

Premier Wen said rural residents shouldn’t be forced to give up their rights to land even if they move to cities.

“No one is empowered to take away such rights,” Wen was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency.

China’s housing ministry has allowed some local governments to build affordable homes on land that’s collectively owned by farmers under a trial program to ease land supply pressure, the 21st Century Business Herald reported today, without saying where it got the information.

Wukan Protests

The Wukan residents canceled a protest march last week after a senior Guangdong official also agreed to address flaws in electing local officials and redistribute land that had been sold off unfairly.

The unrest first began in September, when disputes over land, local elections and village finances between residents and local officials led protesters to attack police and overturn cars, according to the Shanwei city government.

Protests flared again this month after police detained five villagers on accusations that they had led demonstrations and one of the men, Xue Jinbo, died while in custody on Dec. 11.

The decision to meet the villagers’ demands is part of a wider government strategy aimed at containing such protests before they spread, according to Joseph Cheng, a politics professor at the City University of Hong Kong. The standoff and other protests have sparked concerns that unrest stemming from China’s growth could undermine the Communist Party’s rule.

Thousands of villagers near the city of Shantou, also in Guangdong, called off their protests over a planned power station when officials promised to suspend work, Xinhua reported.

About 40 percent of local government revenue came from land sales last year, according to China Real Estate Information Corp., a property data and consulting firm.

‘Improve Skills’

Separately, a senior Party official in Guangdong province also called officials to improve their skills in dealing with public’s complaints and claims and take a quick response, according to Xinhua.

“It is imperative for us to improve our work in response to complaints and claims from the people as ideas of democracy, equality and rights are taking root among the public,” said Zhu Mingguo, vice secretary of the Guangdong provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, at a recent stability maintenance workshop.

“We need to resolve issues of people’s immediate interests and concerns in a timely manner,” said, Zhu, who was the key government official who initiated the negotiations to end the protests in Wukan.

— With assistance by Liza Lin, and Lifei Zheng

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