China Property Rights May Be Increased

03/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BEIJING — China's Cabinet suggested major changes Friday to the way land is seized for redevelopment in an attempt to calm a passionate issue that has sparked growing violence and even prompted some protesters to set themselves on fire.

Developers and demolition companies would be banned from using violence or shutting off water and electricity to force residents from their homes, according to changes proposed by the State Council, or Cabinet, and posted on its Web site.

All are common tactics in China, where hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted for booming urban redevelopment, fueled by government lending and often with the approval of local officials.

The draft proposal also calls for compensation for seized property to be above its market price, an effort to calm protests over little or no payment. More than 90 percent of residents in places marked as old or dangerous would have to agree to demolition first – even for projects judged to be in the public interest.

China Central Television led its midday news broadcast with the proposals.

"Definitely these would have helped us," said Zhang Weimin, who camped out in his unlit, unheated Beijing restaurant for weeks, resisting threats from what he and other holdouts suspected were hired thugs before their strip of businesses was torn down this month. "What happened to us would have been a violation."

Property seizures have caused widespread protests. Late last year, a video and photos of a woman standing on a roof and setting herself on fire in protest in the southwestern city of Chengdu spread across state-run media. Shortly after that, a man protesting another demolition set himself ablaze in Beijing. Unlike the woman, he survived.

Five law professors from China's top Peking University then took a rare public stand, asking the National People's Congress Standing Committee to change a regulation they said encouraged abusive tactics by developers and led to "mass incidents" and "extreme events." Meetings with legislative officials from the State Council followed.

Property seizures are supposed to be limited to projects in the public interest, and seizing land and negotiating with residents for compensation is the government's job under China's property law.

But a regulation issued in 2001 allows developers to step in and handle those negotiations, the professors argued. Developers are sometimes accused of using hired thugs to threaten residents, sometimes with violence.

"The interests of the companies and people are sharply contradictory. So increasingly, more demolition cases end in a horrible way," Shen Kui, the professor who organized the request to the National People's Congress, told The Associated Press last year.

Shen praised the government's speed in dealing with the issue Friday, but said it can still forcibly demolish a property if it thinks its decision is fair and people have been compensated.

Friday's proposals are open for public comment until Feb. 12, a statement on the State Council's site said. The National People's Congress has already authorized the State Council to enact regulations on the issue after the comment period is over.

In another self-immolation, a man in the southeastern province of Jiangsu set himself on fire Tuesday to protest a demolition, the People's Daily newspaper reported on its Web site Thursday.


Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report.