Land seizures in China are becoming the greatest source of public dissent spurring social unrest in many parts of the country, according to rights watchdog Amnesty International.
says acceleration in forced evictions and land grabbing is largely due to growing pressure on provincial and city governments to stimulate the economy.
“Forced evictions are currently the biggest source of public discontent in China today,” said Nicola Duckworth, who authored the Amnesty report.
claims China’s efforts to boost its flagging economy have forced local governments to borrow large sums of money from state banks to finance stimulus projects. To pay back their debts the local governments have increasingly turned to land sales, cashing in on China’s real estate boom and forcing half of China’s rural residents to leave their homes.
Changes to China’s tax system in the mid-1990s have also required local governments to give the majority of tax revenue to Beijing and left local officials searching for other sources of money.
In 2009, the total income from land sales was $223 billion, a 50 percent increase from the year before.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei criticized Amnesty International for its report.
He said Amnesty International has always been prejudiced against China and that its report has no credibility. Hong Lei also pointed out regulations put in place by the State Council on January 19 of last year protecting the rights of landowners in China.
Following several self immolations in protest of land seizures, the China State Council banned the use of violence in home evictions and granted residents increased protections.
But the rights group says these policy changes only cover urban residents, and leave people in the countryside, the main victims of land seizures, unprotected.
Lawyer Wang Cailiang, who defends victims of land seizures, says lack of an independent judicial authority also leaves residents with limited opportunities for redress.
Wang says it is a scary situation for many protesting seizures of the land because the judicial branch is a department of the government.
Local officials’ promotions in the Communist Party are often dependent on how effective they are at boosting the local economy. China is expected to unveil more stimulus measures in the months ahead, potentially increasing the problem of land seizures in the countryside.