BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government has warned that feverish urban expansion is threatening farmland and forcing farmers off their land as local governments raze villages to create new towns and cities.
The warning from the State Council, or government cabinet, late on Wednesday showed the difficult balance China faces in pushing urbanisation while saving farmland for food security.
It came after a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao that found “problems demanding urgent correction” as local governments seek to expand towns and small cities, according to the central government website.
“Halt mass demolitions and construction that violates farmers’ wishes, as well as the reckless construction of high buildings,” said the official summary of the meeting.
China is seeking to speed up urbanisation while preserving arable land above a “red line” of 120 million hectares. The Ministry of Land and Resources has said China is already brushing that limit, with 121.7 million hectares available for farming at the end of 2009.
Between now and 2040, China’s urban population will expand by up to 400 million, according to Han Jun, a rural policy expert who advises the government. That would mean towns and cities absorbing around 15 million new residents every year.
Forced farmland requisition, often for what farmers say is inadequate compensation, is the main source of protest and unrest in the countryside, home to over 700 million people.
In many areas, including eastern Jiangsu and Shandong provinces, officials have tried to claim more land for urban growth and industry by encouraging or forcing villagers to move into more concentrated settlements.
The cabinet said local governments were abusing pilot schemes intended to promote better coordinated urban-rural development and using them to grab land from villagers.
“A small number of areas are obsessively pursuing expanded urban building land-use targets,” the official summary said.
“Some areas go against the wishes of farmers (in) carrying out forced demolitions and construction, violating their rights and interests.”
The meeting warned local officials to “adhere to the strictest arable land protection and preservation system”.