Almost a quarter of new land acquisitions in Chinese cities are illegal, according the Ministry of Land and Resources.
A survey using remote sensing satellite technology showed 22 percent of new acquisitions in 90 medium-sized and large cities were illegal.
The data collected from October 2005 to October 2006 also showed more than 80 percent of acquisitions were illegal in eight cities, where more than 16,000 hectares was illegally used, said a senior ministry official.
Meanwhile, about 51 percent of new land-use projects in the 90 cities were illegal and the figure was as high as 80 percent in 17 cities, said Zhang Xinbao, director of the supervision bureau of the ministry.
A survey conducted by the ministry in 15 cities in 2005 showed 52.8 percent of land acquisitions for construction were illegal from October 2003 to September 2005 and the figure climbed to 60 percent during the following 12 months.
The illegal use of land was a growing problem in medium-sized cities, rural areas and in central and west China, said Zhang, who would not name any of the cities surveyed.
The top 15 cities with the highest proportions of illegal use and acquisitions were mostly in central or west China, he said.
As GDP growth played a crucial role in official promotion, local governments often acquiesced to illegal land use to attract investment, Zhang explained.
The authorities would continue to firmly enforce laws against illegal land use, investigate major cases and speed up reforms, including the evaluation system of official performance, he said.
The world's most populous nation faces a severe farm land shortage. Its arable land declined from 122 million hectares to 121.8 million hectares over 2006, almost hitting the official bottom line of 120 million hectares.
In the meantime, official figures show that investment in fixed assets in urban areas rose to 6.67 trillion yuan in the first eight months of 2007, an increase of 26.7 percent over the same period last year. (One U.S. dollar equals 7.51 yuan)