Wen Jiabao Calls to Protect Farmers' Rights, But Doubts Remain

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After two weeks of protests in southern China over land grabs, Premier Wen Jiabao is saying that farmers' land rights should be protected. But it's unclear whether central authorities will be able to control officials at the local level.

Earlier this month, angry residents of Wukan, Guangdong Province kicked government and Party officials out of their village—because they were angry over illegal land grabs and mistreatment.

The incident has prompted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to announce that authorities should better protect farmers' rights. Wen made the comments at a rural affairs conference on Tuesday. He said farmers' land ownership rights could no longer be sacrificed to reduce urbanization and industrialization costs.

But it's not clear how much of an effect Wen can have in stopping forced land grabs—something that the Communist Party has tolerated and even encouraged for decades.

[Ma Xiaoming, Former Shaanxi TV Editor]:
"The Communist regime's extreme use of power, atrocities, deceit, and greed in the past 20 years are clearly shown through the aspect of land seizures. This isn't an issue that Wen Jiabao as one person can resolve. It's a problem with the system, an inevitable result of the Communist system."

The problem is that many of these land grabs are carried out by local officials without direction from central authorities. That makes officials' behavior harder to rein in.

[Xie Yanyi, Beijing Rights Lawyer]:
"Actually there are still many people in positions of responsibility who are abusing their power, and they do it in the name of benefiting society. In fact, these actions are all selfish. That is to say, some of these lawless officials rely on power and benefits [from land seizures]."

Ben Hedges