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Bulldozed In Chongqing

November 21, 2011

Caixin Weekly: China Economics & Finance (Caixin Media)
-  Wednesday, November 16, 2011, 08:57 AM

Over Beijing´s objections, a local government and developer China Overseas
uprooted farmers while pushing ahead with a villa-resort project
By staff reporter Deng Hai | 1229 words

Bulldozers froze in their tracks in April after the Ministry of Land and
Resources declared the Lixianghu residential-commercial-resort project
outside Chongqing in violation of China's land-use regulations. What had
been a bustling construction site for more than a year fell silent after
the ministry chastised and slapped developer China Overseas Holdings Ltd.
with a 4.1 million yuan fine. With clearing completed on only about two
percent of the 1,561 targeted hectares - much of it cultivated by family
farmers for generations - the ministry's order pointed to a possible
collapse for the 16 billion yuan project. But just eight weeks later, the
bulldozers were rolling again. China Overseas said it paid the fine. And
thanks to the developer's cozy relations with local government officials,
who never signed off on the stop order, the ministry's directive proved
temporary. Sources told Caixin that the ministry's Chongqing municipal
branch apparently chose not to continue enforcing the order from their
Beijing superiors. And Nanchuan District officials in whose jurisdiction
the project is located continued supporting China Overseas even after the
ministry's action led to Communist Party penalties for eight district
officials, handed down by the party's Central Committee for Discipline
Inspection. News that farmers were losing land to the developer's
bulldozers even after the central government's penalties eventually
reached the ministry's headquarters, and a team of Beijing officials
visited the site in September. Farmers told the officials that China
Overseas' construction crews had tried to hide their recent work from
government satellite cameras, which routinely monitor development sites in
China to thwart illegal land grabs. Concrete slabs had been covered with
soil and grass, they said. Wu Weiguo, head of the Nanchuan Land Bureau's
Law Enforcement Unit, denied work had resumed at the site. Instead,
responding to farmer accusations of a cover-up, Wu said the developer was
obeying the ministry's order by reversing its work on illegally cleared
land, so that it could be cultivated again. A China Overseas official told
Caixin that its contractors were carrying out "rectification and reform"
on a "dangerous slope" near a highway right-of-way that had been legally
obtained, and that led to the Lixianghu site. The reclamation effort had
started in September, Wu said, because "it was too hot between April and
August." Nice Views State-owned China Overseas was selected over several
dozen other developers seeking Nanchuan government permission to replace
the scenic area's farms. This picturesque region includes a lake with 38
peninsulas and islands in the shadow of mountains and scenic areas, such
as Nanchuan Golden Buddha and Wulong Fairy Hill. In August 2008, China
Overseas and the district government signed a comprehensive agreement for
the Lixianghu project, 59 kilometers via expressway from Chongqing's city
limits. The plan called for an upscale, urban-rural investment project
with an eco-tourism twist, modeled after resorts in Switzerland. China
Overseas planners drew up blueprints for villas, parks, sports facilities,
an 18-hole golf course, a hunting zone and a 258-bed, five-star hotel. In
addition to development rights, the company received 200 free hectares

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