China's Land Battles Continue Amid the Global Land Bout

Tuesday, 25 March, 2014

Despite endless fears of a Chinese economic slowdown, land disputes in the country over development and industry have continued in violent fashion, with an evicted farmer dying in a fire during a protest last Friday, and large demonstrations in Tibet (or Gansu Province) occurring last week against gold mining and highway construction.

The farmer, aged 62, was killed when his tent – put up in protest against his eviction - caught fire in Shandong province:

“Locals claimed that the land had been secretly sold to a property developer and farmers who held rights to use it had not received compensation to which they were entitled.”

Amnesty International released a report in 2013, Standing Their Ground, highlighting the Chinese population’s woes at increasing forced evictions that clears land for industrial development.

The incident allegedly caused outrage on China’s heavily censored social media networks, with frustration clearly growing at perceived land injustices in the country. “A 2012 survey by US advocacy group Landesa found that more than 20 percent of farmers were never compensated when their land was sold”

A lack of compensation was one of the primary grievances of Tibetan communities too, who mobilized against Chinese industrial projects yesterday, protesting the construction of a gold mine and highway expansion in particular.

According to Radio Free Asia “unfurling huge banners criticizing what they called Chinese encroachment of local Tibetan land, the Tibetans gathered on March 16 and 17 to voice their opposition to the highway projects in Sangchu (in Chinese, Xiahe) county in the Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.”

China’s land disputes are part of larger crisis affecting the ‘global south’ as increasing industrial development collides with traditional or customary land tenure. 'Land Grabs' has become an essential term in current development lexicon, and civil society is becoming increasingly vociferous in it concern for land rights protection in the face of government or corporate led development. Last week an environmental conflict map was released plotting global flashpoints of land disputes.

Amnesty’s report, Standing Their Ground, reveals that much of the land clearance is not just for development however, but for money to pay local government debts arising from development:

“Local governments have borrowed huge sums from state banks to finance stimulus projects and now rely on land sales to cover the payments.”

Amnesty has called on Chinese authorities to immediately halt any further forced evictions, noting that they are banned under international law, but has the international community been vociferous enough on the issue of land struggles? With financial transparency and corruption making waves in the mainstream media the past year, owing the G8 in particular for its popularity, forced evictions, unfair compensation and land injustice has received far less attention.

Land rights would certainly be a fitting theme for this year’s G8 - which will now be a G7 - after Putin was snubbed from the council yesterday for his occupation of Crimea.