Hu Jintao (President of the People’s Republic of China) and the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, are the benign faces of the fourth generation of Communist Chinese leaders. They preside over a nation of 1.3 billion which has completed its second decade of annual GNP growth of 9.5%.
However, along with this unprecedented growth have come the same old shady deals, especially when it comes to buying and selling land. For example, it is estimated that as much as A$172 billion has been siphoned off in the past 25 years by government and party officials requisitioning land and selling off rights to its use in the maritime province of Guangdong alone. Guangdong, with its capital Guangzhou (formerly Canton), is where most of Australia’s, and many of the world’s, overseas Chinese communities originated from.
A law has been introduced recently in Guangdong to curb the sale of collectively owned land by officials without the consent of communal owners. Prior approval for the sale of collectively owned land will not be required from officials in future, but approval by two-thirds of a village, or the village representatives, will be required. Half the proceeds from village land transactions must be allocated for social security needs in the village.
These new laws are designed to stop rampant illegal land sales that have been the basis of simmering unrest in rural China, especially in its prosperous eastern seaboard provinces, where the bulk of China’s recent rapid economic transformation has occurred. But the new laws do not protect arable land or control runaway growth nor do they guarantee equitable compensation for farmers. With four tiers of government national, provincial, municipal and village and with a 70 million strong Communist Party, it is yet to be seen if the new laws will stop the theft of the proceeds of land sales.
Hong Kong, next to Guangdong, with 150 years of British colonial rule has a different history to its hinterland, but is an integral part of the Cantonese speaking region of southern China. Macau, 65 kilometres across the mouth of the Pearl River from Hong Kong, with approximately 450 years of Portuguese colonial rule prior to reunification with the mainland in 1999, is another Cantonese speaking city. Despite their divergent colonial histories, however, these zones are as prone to the murky land deal as anywhere else in China.
On September 12, Hong Kong Disneyland was opened by Zeng Qinghong, Vice-President of China (third in the hierarchy), along with Donald Tsang, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, various Disney corporate executives and assorted rodent characters. Disneyland has been stitched into the Hong Kong infrastructure via a development company with 5 directors appointed by the HK government and 4 by the Disney corporation. About 2.8 square kilometres of reclaimed and adjacent land on the rapidly developing island of Lantau has been either transferred without cost, or made available without tender, to Disneyland by the HK Government. Each of the 7 million residents of HK has underwritten Disneyland to the tune of approximately A$7,000 via the HK Government.
The sale of reclaimed land has been a staple of HK government income in both the colonial and post-reunification eras. Despite a strong anti-reclamation lobby, the HK Government continues to fill in Victoria Harbour and approve freeways and shopping malls as opposed to parks and recreational access for its citizens to their virtually inaccessible foreshore. The once beautiful harbour has shrunk to approximately half its size by land reclamation over the past 160 years.
In Macau, where the island of Coloane joins the island of Tapa by an isthmus, several goliath casino developments are underway on recently reclaimed sandy wastes, just a few centimetres above the water line, on either side of the isthmus. In the past, Communist cadres in ill-fitting suits could be seen gambling away party and peasants’ funds in Macau’s seedy Lisboa Casino. Now 600 million newly rich Chinese who live within two hours flying time of Macau and Hong Kong have Disneyland for family fun, and a plethora of fantasy locations for gambling in Macau.
Hong Kong and Macau’s future is to be integrated into Guangdong and surrounding provinces, which make up the Greater Pearl River Delta region. The forthcoming HK to Zhuhai bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta, will link into the Chinese national road network, bringing Hong Kong and Macau within reach of the new automobile-owning Chinese middle-class.
China’s headlong rush to capitalism is certainly providing a wealth of contradictions. Deng Xiaoping, father of China’s market economy reputedly said, ‘it does not matter what colour the cat is, so long as it catches the rat.’ It comes as no surprise then that Deng’s daughter unveiled a gold and diamond encrusted bust of her father during celebrations in Hong Kong to mark the centenary of his birth in 2004.
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