March 22, 2007

Property "Rites" in China

By Property "Rites" in China

by Timothy Sandefur

We often hear polyannish statements by overly optimistic libertarians that the People's Republic of China is coming around to respecting property rights. An article in the new American magazine takes a more realistic view of some of these changes. Excerpt:

This year the seven-times revised, 40-page, 247-article bill will be passed, the leadership has decreed.  To that end, the current draft is filled with praises for socialism’s role in China, and will do little but provide legal protections for the existing status quo. Unfortunately for China’s rural residents this probably means a continuation of weak legal protections and state seizures of land.

Rural areas will continue to be governed under a different system than the booming cities on the coast. “Collective” ownership will remain in China’s inland provinces, where occupiers only have “usage rights” and no individual access to titles that can be bought or sold.  The Chinese press has widely covered a change in this year’s draft that will give farmers the right to renew their leases after they expire. (Under the proposed law, the state will retain ownership of the entire mainland, but city land can be leased for 40-70-year periods with guaranteed renewals, and rural land can be leased for up to 30-year periods.) But the text within the draft dealing with rural land seizures will likely do little to stop officials from taking land for development projects with little compensation because it will be up to those same officials to enforce the laws.

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