Monday, October 22, 2012

Stimulating Forced Evictions in China

The report "Standing Their Ground" by Amnesty International covers an issue familiar to many people in China:
The forced eviction of people from their homes and farmland has become a routine occurrence in China and represents a gross violation of China’s international human rights obligations on an enormous scale. Despite international scrutiny and censure of such abuses amid preparations for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the pace of forced evictions has only accelerated over the past three years, with millions of people across the country forced from their residences without appropriate legal protection and safeguards. These evictions are often marked by violence, committed both by state and private actors in pursuit of economic gain and, less commonly, by frustrated residents in desperate acts of protest and resistance.

Chinese who lose their homes or land in forced evictions often find themselves living in poorly constructed dwellings far away from jobs, schools and public transport. Because there is not yet a comprehensive social welfare safety net in the countryside, rural residents are particularly vulnerable to severe economic hardship after evictions. Farmers who lose their land often end up in poverty. The problem of forced evictions represents the single most significant source of popular discontent in China and a serious threat to social and political stability.

Premier Wen Jiabao and other members of the Chinese leadership have publicly acknowledged the gravity of the situation, with Wen recently saying in a meeting: “What is the widespread problem right now? It’s the arbitrary seizure of peasants’ land, and the peasants have complaints, so much so that it’s triggering mass incidents [protests].” But other Chinese officials have sought to minimize the problem and defended abuses in the eviction process as a necessary cost of modernization.
In the China Real Time Report, Chuin-Wei Yap's overview of Amnesty International's findings explains the connection between a recent increase in evictions and a nationwide stimulus intended to help China's economy:
Forced evictions have long been a problem in China, in large part because the country’s chronically underfunded local governments rely heavily on land sales for revenue. As part of the 2008 stimulus, initially set at 4 trillion yuan (roughly $640 billion), local governments went on a building binge financed by loans from state-run banks. The need to service those loans drove local governments to sell even greater quantities of land than before, which in turn drove an increase in evictions, according to Amnesty International.

The non-profit says there are no reliable estimates on the number of people forcibly evicted in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but it claims development-linked evictions have risen “significantly” in the last two years. “China’s response to the global recession has exacerbated the problem, with local governments borrowing huge amounts from state banks to finance stimulus projects and relying on land sales to cover interest payments,” it says.
A few weeks ago in Changsha, Hunan province, I was walking through a neighborhood marked for demolition. While there I encountered a man who seemed curious about my presence. After he expressed his happiness in meeting an American, he had one parting message for me: the people who lived there received far too little compensation for their homes.

Read Yap's post and the Amnesty International report for more details on an issue that can raise so many emotions in China. And see here for an earlier post where I discussed the possible links between forced evictions and corruption not only in China but in the U.S. as well.

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