The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore has reported on a Southern Coastal town which is now in open revolt. However, those who think that this event represents the beginning of some kind of profound shift, ought to pause for a moment.
Thus far, local governments across China have succeeded in raking in extremely high revenues from land sales and property development. The problem is, that the land is often seized from villagers, who are given inadequate compensation.
This practice has stoked far more unrest than other issues – after all, it hits right at the heart of people’s livelihood and exemplifies injustice. To an extent, the central government can wash their hands of it and claim it is the work of local governments, but at the end of the day it is the central government who have set up a system which encourages local governments to get into the real estate market, then turns a blind eye to their questionable methods.
The riots in Wukan however, are sure to provoke some kind of response. The real question is what the central government can do.
Typically, the government likes to use a combination of the velvet glove and the iron fist. Previously, Wukan was the site of the ‘velvet glove’ approach. Although the real causes of the rebellion in Wukan are related to the corrupt local government, there is a chance that this will reflect badly on the Guangdong Party Boss – Wang Yang.
Wang Yang is locked in a contest with Chongqing’s Bo Xilai for positions on the next standing committee. Wang Yang, along with Wen Jiabao represents the liberal face of Chinese politics for the time being.
The Wukan rebellion is likely to be quite the embarrassment for Wang Yang, and something of a vindication for those who advocate heavy-handed control. Bo Xilai may not be at all displeased.