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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 13:11 GMT
China to tackle rural problems
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Hong Kong

A Chinese farmer herds his sheep in a village near Beijing Tuesday Dec. 10, 2002.
China's farmers can only lease land, not own it outright
China plans to try to rein in the seizures of farmland for development, a key source of unrest in recent months.

A top Chinese official on rural issues, Chen Xiwen, made the call as China promised almost $2bn of farm subsidies and other aid for rural communities.

He also hinted that the country's decades-old government monopoly on land sales may also one day be lifted.

Rural unrest is a serious problem in China, with tens of thousands of protests last year, many violent.

6 Nov 2004: Paramilitary troops put down an uprising of 100,000 farmers in Sichuan province
10 April 2005: 20,000 peasants drive off more than 1,000 riot police in Huaxi, Zhejiang province
11 June 2005: Six farmers die in a fight with armed men in Shengyou, Hebei province
29 July 2005: Villagers in Taishi, Guangdong try to oust mayor
6 Dec 2005: Police shoot dead protesters in Dongzhou, Guangdong
14 Jan 2006: Police break up protest in Sanjiao, Guangdong, over land grabs

Farmers in villages whose land was seized by developers for construction projects often directed their anger at corrupt local officials who skimmed off the profits of the sale.

In the meantime, the difference in incomes between those who live in the country and those who live in urban areas is growing.

On average, rural workers earn less than a third of those in the cities.

The government's response is to pump billions of dollars into the rural economy in the form of farm subsidies, better health care provision and other aid.

Farmers who have lost their land already should be given job training and access to social services, according to Mr Chen.

But the latest proposals to reinvigorate the rural economy stops short of ending China's decades-old policy that all land is owned by the state.

There are no plans yet, Mr Chen said, to allow farmers to profit directly from the sale of their land, but the system could be changed in the future.

The new strategy will be debated by the country's parliament next month.

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