Professor Monash University
Re-imagining land disputes in socialist transforming Asia
This is the first in a series of four blogs that will examine the interaction between state and non-state regulatory systems in Socialist Transforming Asia. They will explore how state agencies and local communities imaginatively engage with each other to resolve land disputes that prove intractable to the state legal system. It is important to recall that after decades of collective ownership, China and Vietnam have only in the last 25 years begun to develop legislative frameworks and administrative structures to regulate private land use rights.
During this time, market reforms in China and Vietnam have triggered rapid economic development, and in both countries industrial parks, transport infrastructure and new residential developments are encroaching on farmland –sparking increasingly violent clashes with farmers. China alone experienced over 500 daily land disputes and protests in 2011, with the Wukan village insurrection making newspaper headlines around the world. More than any other socio-economic problem, land disputes pose a direct challenge to the state-based legal system and ultimately to the political system.
Attempts by these governments to enact uniform land laws have not succeeded in displacing pre-existing community based self-regulatory systems. Decades of socialist land policies constrained self-regulation and private land markets without eliminating them. Following market liberalisations in the late 1970s, community based self-regulatory systems recovered their popularity and in some areas rivaled state-backed procedures. In juggling competing land claims, state agencies currently face a dilemma: do they uphold state laws that disregard local regulatory traditions and risk losing social relevance, or do they apply community notions of situational justice which might undermine land rights codified in legislation?
Despite the return of individual property and significant regulatory reforms designed to protect property rights, formal legal responses to land disputes are faltering. Courts and administrative agencies are struggling to use the law to find lasting solutions. It is against this background of legal failure that this blog explores how bottom-up community based understandings of land use interact with legally defined notions of property rights. The dialogical exchanges between state agencies and citizens not only find practical solutions to disputes, they eventually remake the rules.
The next three blogs in this series will examine case studies from Vietnam showing how three different types of local communities have interacted with state authorities to resolve land disputes. The case studies will examine attempts by villagers to block a factory development; peri-urban residents protesting a large residential development; and owners of luxury apartments fighting a developer to control car parking spaces. Each study will highlight a different way that local communities reshape laws and legal processes that were designed with little regard to underlying land use practices.