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Editorial: Prudence in urbanization

(China Daily)

09:31, January 17, 2013

The vow of authorities to utilize land resources in a rational manner as they push forward urbanization, a process that has often been accompanied by land disputes, is a show of respect for the people-oriented approach to development.

The Ministry of Land and Resources said at its annual work conference over the weekend that it would optimize land management and promote urbanization in an active and prudent manner.

Judging from the many controversies surrounding China's land sales, the ministry is sending a signal that policymakers are rethinking land policies.

China's urbanization has so far been depicted as a great success story. Indeed, in 2011, the mainland's urban population reached 51.3 percent. Considering that it was less than 20 percent in 1980 and 36 percent in 2000, the fast pace of urbanization is nothing but remarkable.

With urbanization leaping forward, the economy has benefited greatly from rising domestic demand, and many people have seen their living standards improve.

It is therefore understandable policymakers have recently called for pushing forward the urbanization drive. It is taken as an effective way to bolster the economy at a time when it seems to be losing steam.

Behind the success story of urbanization, however, many farmers have lost their land. They have been paid compensation, but the level is often low and not comparable to the land's real market value, this, coupled with the lack of a comprehensive social security network, has put their futures at risk.

Worse, some farmers have suffered from violence if they did not agree to the offered prices.

Protection of farmers' interests in the process of urbanization has become an issue that demands more attention and real action.

The core of the issue lies in the farmers' lack of voice and bargaining abilities. If they feel their interests are being harmed, they often find it hard to seek help from the government or courts.

An equitable negotiation and dispute-settling mechanism, therefore, must be put in place, through which farmers can negotiate on an equal footing with commercial interests over the price paid for the land being taken over. Such a system should ensure, once a dispute arises, there is an independent entity to serve as the judge. In other words, farmers should have the right to refuse their land being taken over for commercial use if they think the price is unfair.

For China, rational urbanization built on free-will land transfers is more desirable.

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