Singapore Academic Zheng Yongnian about Farmland Reform

Zheng Yongnian (郑永年), head of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, was guarded about the discussions about farmers’ land transfer rights at the 17h Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Third Plenary Session. The new rules would only benefit China’s farmers if they were also given the right to organize politically, said Zheng. Otherwise, the latest measures would not only be inefficient in benefitting the peasants, but lead to further deprivation instead. There is a podcast of the interview with Prof. Zheng on the BBC’s website which should be available for download for another few days (very clear Mandarin, slowly spoken and good for learning both the language and getting information about China).

(Zheng Yongnian from Singapore shouldn’t be confused with Zheng Zhongnian of Nottingham University .)

If the L.A. Times is right, China’s patient countryside will have to stay on the backburner anyway, as the latest land reform move may have encountered resistance from hard-liners who benefit from the status quo , after which the whole issue disappeared from radar . Then again, why these public great expectations before the plenary session? Was the article part of an internal power struggle?

Stay tuned, says Keliang Zhu , the head of the China research division for the Rural Development Institute in Seattle. The Communist Party was expected to issue another document spelling out the details of the new policies, according to Zhu.

Xinhua’s coverage on the “decisions” actually made on the four-day plenum looks like a washout: China’s ruling Communist Party said on Sunday that it would strive to double the per-capita disposable income of rural residents by 2020 from the 2008 level. The goal was part of the decision made at the close of the third Plenary Session of the 17th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, which focused on issues concerning rural reform and development. (…) The government would also boost consumption of rural residents by a big margin and basically eliminate absolute poverty in rural areas by 2020, according to a communique issued on the plenum’s conclusion. The complete wishy-washy communique is available at Xinhuanet. Plus some good advice from Vice Premier Hui Liangyuhas for local officials to better develop the tea oil industry. (Local officials are probably the guys who benefit from the status quo. It is them who decide on the transfer of land use rights.)

It starts looking as if Zheng Yongnian’s critical appraisal of the plenary session was still overly optimistic. The socialist countryside will have to stay tuned, too.

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