Farmland Reform?

Dang Guoying, a professor of rural studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Tuesday that the country should promote permanent land contract policies and freer trading of land management rights to ensure a stable land transaction market and liberate farmers bound to their land. (China Daily, Oct. 10)

Apparently, farmland reform isn’t just being “mulled”, as the China Daily headline would suggest. It’s reportedly on the agenda of the CPC’s Central Committee’s plenary session, due to begin tomorrow. And it’s hard to imagine that China Daily, the CPC’s mouthpiece, would be allowed to publish this plan if it wasn’t as good as adopted already.

The Economist deplored last year that China’s property law, adopted in 2007 after long struggles, did not meet the most crying need: to give peasants marketable ownership rights to the land they farm. If they could sell their land, tens of millions of underemployed farmers might find productive work. Those who stay on the farm could acquire bigger land holdings and use them more efficiently.

The draft that might dominate the coming days of Chinese one-party politics does address this bottleneck. But it doesn’t seem to address corruption – a problem that affects land use rights as much as most other economic and social fields in China. According to Kang Wei, a State Politics Academy researcher, local officials often sell land use rights far below actual value to manufacturers – both because those may create more jobs and because the second-tier industry looks more appealing to them than unprestigious farming. The right of local officials to trade landuse rights still seems to come before the peasants’ rights to do a similar thing, at least among themselves.

Unchecked official rights of disposal are an invitation to corruption. The farmers have little or no say in such sales, and no independent courts to go to when an alliance of officials and manufacturers betrays them.

Official handling of the peasants’ rights can be as feudal as the bad old times. When will that be a public issue?

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