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China Security Memo: Jan. 21, 2010

12 MINS READJan 21, 2010 | 22:26 GMT

Land Disputes

On Jan. 12, in Longya village, Guangxi province, a conflict between police and local demonstrators over a land dispute ended with at least 11 officers and seven villagers injured and some 50 demonstrators arrested. Brewing over the last four years, the dispute originated with the county government's attempt in 2006 to acquire land for an industrial park. Two-thirds of the villagers who held long-term leases on the land eventually took the issue to court, claiming that the compensation offered by the government was too low. A drawn-out court battle ensued, and 12 village leaders were called to testify last week in the Guilin Municipal Court. Before they arrived at the court, however, all of them were arrested for "obstructing public works." Soon after the arrests, a hundred or more villagers surrounded police and demanded that their neighbors be released. At some point police opened fire on the protesters, later claiming they had shot into the crowd in self-defense after being attacked with rocks, knives and clubs and firing warning shots. STRATFOR suspects that the local government and police colluded with the developers to prevent the village leaders from testifying. The incident is one of an increasing number of land conflicts that have occurred in China over the past year. As property values continue to rise, developers are becoming more aggressive about forcing so-called "land transfers." Even government officials and police are getting involved in removing landholders from their leased properties so the land can be developed. Local officials are becoming more eager to conduct these land transfers because taxes on the transfers are a primary source of government revenue (as are bribes from developers). In 2009, local government revenue from land transfers in China amounted to 1.5 trillion yuan (about $220 billion). Under Chinese law, all land in rural areas is owned by the state or local collectives, which in turn lease properties to rural landholders for 30 to 70 years (mainly for agricultural purposes). But the government has the authority to arrest any landholder who refuses to accept a non-negotiable monetary offer to rescind the lease or refuses to vacate the premises. As land-transfer pressure intensifies, local landholders are starting to respond more aggressively to the tactic. Two other incidents over the past week highlight this growing conflict: On Jan. 18, in Pizhou, Jiangsu province, police arrested 30 people, including the village party secretary, for their involvement in violence over a land transfer in Pizhou. The incident occurred on Jan. 7, when more than 200 thugs hired by local officials escorted bulldozers to Hewan village for a construction project. Local officials have been trying to transfer the land for nearly two years, but villagers who lease the land say the compensation offered is too low. In the ensuing clash between villagers and police, one person was stabbed and killed. Later that day, at least 2,000 people protested the death of their 21-year-old neighbor, holding banners inscribed with such statements as "Forced occupation of land, hiring thugs to kill villagers." Some of the protesters were beaten by police. Interestingly, the party official arrested may have had links to the developers. On Jan. 14, near Changyuan in Henan province, farmers blocked provincial highway 308 in response to a land grab in Yangzhuang village. A property development company called "Great Wall" had sent tractors in the night before to remove structures, crops and trees on the land that it wanted to develop. Farmers tried to stop the tractors but were beaten by hired thugs, and two of the farmers were seriously injured. A month earlier the company had done the same thing in a nearby village. Land conflicts have always existed in China, but they have grown to a point where Beijing is now considering land-law reform (they have considered this for years, but due to increasing social instability over this issue coupled with the economic crisis, such considerations have been raised yet again and there seems to be more urgency now than in the past when these issues were discussed). It is unclear how fast this discussion will proceed, and no changes are likely to happen in 2010. But STRATFOR sources believe the law eventually will be changed to better protect landholders. Meanwhile, local governments will continue to use legal tools to get their way. And even if the law is ultimately changed, its real effect will be seen in how it is enforced at the local level. (click here to view interactive map)

Jan. 14

  • A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said "the Internet is open in China" and that the government encourages its development under proper regulation. This was in response to Google's announcement that it may be leaving China.
  • Two suspects wanted for gang-related crimes turned themselves into the police Jan. 9 in Chongqing, Chinese media reported. They both found their names on wanted lists recently posted by police.
  • The former chief of the Municipal Finance Bureau recently was jailed for 10 years on bribery and corruption charges in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, Chinese media reported. Between 1997 and 2009, Zhou Huaqing accepted bribes in various currencies worth nearly $200,000. He also conspired with others to create a fake company and applied for 2.77 million yuan (about $400,000) in government funding in 2004.
  • Some 800 taxi drivers in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, ended a two-day strike on Jan. 12, Chinese media reported. They were protesting unlicensed ("black") taxis and asking the government to crack down on them. Officials promised to look into the issue.
  • Two leaders of a gang from Xiantao, Hubei province, were executed after the Supreme People's Court approved their sentences. They founded the gang in 2001, opened illegal casinos and manipulated local transportation, food and cement markets. The leaders were charged with gang-related offenses including murder, blackmail and illegal possession of firearms. Another 19 gang members were sentenced to jail terms.
  • The assistant mayor of Tianmen, Hubei province, and 24 others were sentenced to jail terms for corruption. Charges including gang involvement, embezzlement and racketeering led to sentences ranging from 14 months to 19 years. The assistant mayor was jailed for five and a half years.

Jan. 15

  • Thousands of workers staged a protest outside their factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province over the use of toxic chemicals and low pay. Some workers claimed they were poisoned by the use of the chemical hexane. They were also angry that their year-end bonuses were canceled for the second consecutive year. The Taiwanese company, Wintek, supplies mobile phone touch screens for Apple, Nokia, Motorola and other companies.
  • Chinese police blocked and canceled China's first gay pageant just before it was to begin in Beijing. Participants had gathered for the event at an upscale club and were preparing to hold a "Mr. Gay China" contest. Sponsors were told they did not have the proper license.
  • The vice chairman of the Xinjiang Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference was removed from his post. He had also served as director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau in Urumqi but was removed from that post in September. His removal is likely related to the Xinjiang riots in July, 2009.
  • Two Chinese men carrying 810,000 euros (about $1.15 million) in cash were detained recently while trying to depart from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Chinese media reported.
  • A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman announced that Shenzhen police detained 21 Indians for smuggling diamonds from Hong Kong to the mainland.
  • A family was arrested by Fuzhou customs when officials discovered a package with 73 grams of methamphetamine that was being smuggled to drug dealers in Australia. Different members of the family were investigated and found to have been involved in drug trafficking since 2007, when a son dropped out of his university studies in Australia.
  • A doctor of traditional Chinese medicine went on trial in Beijing for manslaughter after two of his patients died of arsenic poisoning.
  • A mother in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, threw her two children into a river to bring them "relief from the world," according to Chinese media. The family was poor and she wanted to end her children's suffering, the report said. A bystander called the police and the mother was arrested.
  • A man who smuggled 15 owls between Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces for use in Chinese medicine was sentenced to 10 years in jail in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
  • Two men were shot and killed by police in Anshun, Guizhou province, after they attacked the officers when they responded to a call about a fight.

Jan. 16

  • Eight college students from South Korea were detained by police for gambling in their Beijing apartment. The police seized poker chips and 20,000 yuan (about $3,000) in cash.

Jan. 17

  • Shenzhen border patrol officers arrested two Chinese smugglers who were trafficking 11 people from Pakistan, Nepal and India into the mainland from Hong Kong.

Jan. 18

  • Between Dec. 4 and Jan. 15, the Chinese government received more than 90,000 tips about pornographic Web sites after offering rewards for the information. Two hundred and fifteen whistle-blowers received from 1,000 yuan (about $150) to 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) in the crackdown.
  • The general manager of the China National Nuclear Corporation was removed from office and the Communist Party while being investigated for corruption.
  • The former general manager of Guizhou Moutai, one of China's largest liquor companies, was sentenced to death for bribery and possession of property from an "unknown source." He accepted bribes of 12.23 million yuan (about $1.8 million) and property worth 8.2 million yuan (about $1.2 million) between 2000 and 2007 in Zunyi province.
  • Thirteen operators of one pornographic Web site with 100,000 members were jailed in Anyang, Henan province. Sentences ranged from eight months to 10 years.
  • Nine parents involved in protests across seven provinces to help find their kidnapped children were arrested in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. They were told by police that if they did not stop the protests they would risk causing social unrest.

Jan. 19

  • Huang Songyou, the former deputy president of the Supreme People's Court, was sentenced to life in prison and had his assets confiscated in Langfang, Hebei province, after being convicted of bribery and corruption. He is the highest judicial official to be prosecuted in China's crackdown on corruption. He accepted bribes worth 3.9 million yuan (about $570,000) from lawyers between 2005 and 2008. His crimes go back to 1997, when he embezzled 1.7 million yuan (about $250,000) in public funds.
  • A 21-year-old Chinese man was sentenced to death for killing his sexual partner, a 68-year-old German man.
  • Two gang leaders were executed in Chongqing for their involvement in gang activities, including murder.
  • The former party secretary of Fujian province was sentenced to life imprisonment in Nanjing. He illegally helped 11 companies conduct their business operations, promoted 15 individuals and accepted 8 million yuan (about $1.2 million) in bribes.
  • A man suspected of fraud leaped from the fourth floor of a police station during a recent interrogation in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, Chinese media reported.

Jan. 20

  • Twenty-five salesmen for a pyramid scheme received prison sentences ranging from six months to one year in Haining, Zhejiang province. The defendants came from all over China to convince locals to participate in the scheme.
  • A mother and daughter were wrongly detained in Xuancheng, Anhui province, for more than a week on fraud allegations. The police official said there was nothing illegal about the detention.
  • A man was killed while trying to stop thieves from stealing washing machines in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. He was run over by a minibus used to transport the machines.
  • The Chongqing People's Political Consultative Conference discussed requiring parents to pass a "morality test" before being allowed to have a child. Chongqing is the center of China's corruption crackdown.
  • The anti-corruption chief for the city of Shaoguan, in Guangdong province, went on trial for accepting 34 million yuan (about $5 million) in bribes for protecting businesses involved in prostitution, gambling and narcotics. He confessed that he had planned to give his children 20 million yuan (about $3 million) when he retired.
  • China's Ministry of Public Security in Beijing announced that it will begin a joint crackdown with the People's Bank of China on bank card-related crimes. Such crimes have been on the rise in China, which has the fastest-growing bank card industry in the world.

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