China land grab disputes spread west, hit new high

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Rural land grab disputes are hitting new highs in China and spreading to the undeveloped west of the country, according to a country-wide survey published in a state-run magazine.

Rising discontent over forced demolitions and corruption has increased anxieties among officials determined to defend one-party rule and make the transition to a younger generation of leaders as smooth as possible.

China faces a leadership transition next year, with President Hu Jintao expected to retire from the Communist Party in the autumn and the presidency the following March.

The poll, involving 1,700 households in six Chinese provinces, found disputes over land acquisitions had reached a new peak amid rampant development across China and was a leading cause of rural clashes, according to the Outlook Weekly, a magazine run by Xinhua, China’s state run news agency.

“From the second half of 2002, China has entered a new round of high economic growth period, thus entering a period of high incidents of local land acquisition disputes, and these have even spread from eastern to western regions,” Renmin University academic Dong Xiaodan, whose institution conducted the survey, was reported as saying.

In September, thousands of villagers in the southern Chinese region of Lufeng rioted and ransacked government offices in a major flareup of violence over brazen land requisitions.

Land disputes are now among the most explosive issues facing China today, as rising land prices provide a massive incentive for corruption and lead to patronage networks of officials and businessmen eager to procure more farmland for development.

Official statistics on China’s rural conflicts are hard to come by, but a former deputy editor-in-chief of the official party newspaper, the People’s Daily, said the number of “mass incidents” in China, an official euphemism for social disorder, was consistently above 90,000 per year from 2007 to 2009.

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