Bloomberg News

China Launches Investigation After Protesters Take Over Village

December 15, 2011

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- China’s Communist Party halted a real estate project and are investigating local officials in a village in Guangdong province where protests have led to it being cordoned off, state media reported.

Authorities in Wukan village will be questioned and the property construction plan will be stopped, China News Service said. Future land development will be undertaken only with the approval of a majority of villagers, the report said, citing Wu Zili, the mayor of Shanwei, which has jurisdiction over Wukan.

Police set up a roadblock about three miles from the fishing village, cut off supplies of food and water and prevented local boats from leaving, the Daily Telegraph reported yesterday from the area. Protests began three months ago due to a dispute with the local government over the sale of land, and escalated in the past week after a villager, Xue Jinbo, died in police custody, according to the report.

The standoff is the latest in a series of demonstrations that have sparked concern among Communist Party leaders who have ruled China for more than six decades. Zhou Yongkang, a member the ruling Politburo Standing Committee and the country’s top law enforcement official, twice this month called for handling social conflicts with care.

“There is growing unhappiness within the Chinese populace at large about the behavior of Party members,” said Dean Cheng, a research fellow on Chinese political and security issues at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “The result is growing internal pressures at the same time that you have a leadership whose legitimacy is likely to be challenged.”

Soaring Home Prices

Residential prices in the world’s second-biggest economy have risen 155 percent since 1998. Land disputes are the leading cause of unrest, according to an official study published in June. The number of protests, riots and strikes doubled in five years to almost 500 a day last year, according to Sun Liping, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

About 50 million farmers have lost their homes in the past 30 years since Deng Xiaoping began breaking up agricultural collectives to make way for roads, factories and airports, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. An estimated 60 million more will be uprooted over the next two decades as urbanization expands.

The government of nearby Lufeng city issued a statement on its website saying Xue, 42, died on Dec. 11 of heart failure and an initial investigation ruled out other causes of death. The body showed no signs of assault, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a Guangdong provincial investigator.

Property Development

China News said the property development involved a real estate company with the same name as Hong Kong-listed Country Garden Holdings Co. A woman in Country Garden’s investor relations department who only gave her surname Zuo said the firm didn’t have a project in the area.

Calls to a number on the Lufeng government’s website went unanswered yesterday. Guangdong Communist Party official Wei Jianfei was unavailable for comment, said a man who answered the telephone at his office and declined to give his name.

Thousands of villagers gathered for a second day at Wukan’s village hall yesterday and chanted for the return of Xue’s body, the London-based Telegraph reported. The roadblocks are having a “serious effect” on the livelihood of villagers, China News quoted Shanwei Mayor Wu as saying.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner yesterday in an interview called on “Chinese and local authorities to ensure a peaceful resolution” to the situation in Wukan.

Villagers first protested in September, when they broke into local government offices, police stations and destroyed six police cars, Xinhua reported. The demonstrations were sparked by issues including land use, financing and the election of local officials, and two officials were fired following the unrest.

Police Standoff

The government then asked local villagers to appoint 13 residents to mediate in the dispute, the Telegraph reported. On Dec. 9, five of the 13 people appointed to mediate were detained by men in plain clothes, according to the report.

A thousand armed police attempted to enter Wukan on Dec. 11 and were blocked by the villagers, the Telegraph reported, citing a local resident. Tear gas and water cannons failed to disperse the crowd and after two hours the police withdrew and blocked roads to the village, according the newspaper. Wukan is currently being supplied by residents of neighboring areas carrying in food across fields, the Telegraph reported.

Xue and two others were arrested on Dec. 9 on suspicion of damaging public property and disrupting public services, according to Xinhua. He pleaded guilty to the accusations during two interrogations on Dec. 9 and Dec. 10, Xinhua reported, citing Zeng Songquan, deputy chief of the public security bureau of Shanwei city. The city of Shanwei holds jurisdiction over Lufeng and Wukan, according to Xinhua.

Shanwei, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) east-northeast of Hong Kong, was also the site of protests in 2005 during which police opened fire on demonstrators. Three of the protesters were killed, Xinhua reported in December 2005, citing the city government.

--Mohammed Hadi, with assistance from Michael Forsythe in Beijing, Joshua Fellman in New York and Indira Lakshmanan in Washington. Editors: John Liu, John Brinsley

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Mohammed Hadi in Hong Kong at mhadi1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bloomberg News at jliu42@bloomberg.net


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