Professor Monash University
Urban fringe communities and residential development in Vietnam
This is the third in a series of four blogs that examines the interaction between state and non-state regulatory systems in Socialist Transforming Asia. This blog explores how residents in Hoa Lien Commune in peri-urban Da Nang, Central Vietnam, came together to oppose the Golden Hills residential development. Unlike the villagers described in the second blog, urban development had eroded village ties in Hoa Lien Commune and the residents had to form their own organisational network.
Acting on behalf of a private developer, local officials served compulsory acquisition notices on the residents and negotiated compensation packages. Tensions arose when it became known that officials were compensating residents at different rates, an outcome made possible by the Land Law. What infuriated the residents most, however, was the belief that the authorities betrayed them to the developer. Many residents were veterans of Vietnam’s wars of independence and looked to the party and state to protect their interests. Hostilities erupted into violence in late August 2011 when thousands of residents blocked access to the construction site, destroying the developer’s offices and clashing with riot police on successive nights.
The residents’ main demand was for more compensation. Since the officials followed compensation procedures set out in the Land Law, the residents challenged the law’s legitimacy. First they argued that the law lacked fairness because it allowed developers and state officials, but not residents to profit from land development. Next residents invoked revolutionary rhetoric to argue that Hòa Vang district was a ‘cradle of the revolution’ and the party and state should protect workers from private developers.
Responding to critical articles in national newspapers, the Da Nang Communist Party called a meeting with the residents on the 31 August 2011. Dressed in white, the party chairman, Nguyễn Bá Thanh, addressed a crowd of approximately 2,000 residents and supporters. To defuse the emotional intensity of the conflict, Nguyễn Bá Thanh portrayed himself as a mediator between the residents and the government. He acknowledged the residents’ sense of injustice and assured them that the party did not want the project to make the people ‘poor and hungry’. What is instructive about this case is that Nguyễn Bá Thanh did not use the land law to frame the dispute. Instead he drew on a regulatory tradition where the party leads society through morality rule—a mode of governance that stresses sentiment and reasonableness rather than legal and procedural solutions to social problems. Obeying the party leader, and ignoring legal guidelines, the local government renegotiated more equitable land compensation packages for the residents.