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Li Ling Hin, Urban Land Reform
LI Ling Hin's book deals with a subject that lies at the heart of the preoccupations of many Chinese: the management of land and real estate in urban areas. More precisely, the book aims to take stock of almost twenty years of reform, during which China has moved from the age of collectivisation to the age of property speculation.
The work opens with an initial historical review that takes us back to the early days of Chinese civilisation. Chapter 2 then deals with the process of land management reform, Chapter 3 with the housing market, Chapter 4 with the first consequences of the reforms, and finally Chapters 5 and 6 with the reforms in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The author presents the reform process in an essentially descriptive manner. He highlights the importance of the provisional regulations of 1991 that introduced the land use rights and thus allowed rights of ownershipwhich remain in the hands of the stateto be separated from rights of exploitation. He also reveals all the difficulties of valuing collective land (in suburban areas), as this land first has to be sold to the state before the rights to use it are transferred to developers. The different methods of assigning these rights are presented (by common agreement and calls for tenders) as well as the difficulties linked to valuing land used by businesses when they go public. How can a plot of land be valued when there is no real market? It is this question of the market that preoccupies the author. The prevailing prices are artificial and the agreements frequently implemented by private contract with the consent of the local authorities. The administrative channel plays a much more important role than the market.
In the area of housing, the author describes the policy of selling apartments to private individuals, but he also stresses the very weak activity in the housing loan sector. The authorities will have to intervene here if they do not want to impede the development of housing.
Finally, the book highlights the administrative reasoning behind the efforts as well as the measures that the authorities have had to take to respond to the problems that have cropped up. Thus, in Shanghai, the objective of the reform has from the very beginning been to fill up the coffers of the local government. As for the new measures, one can cite the progressive merger of the administrative departments responsible for land management with those in charge of real estate, which, separated at the start, would create a schizophrenic situation that would be difficult to manage.
However, one emerges from the book very disappointed. It in fact lacks a global analysis that would include the political dimension. The state is seen exclusively through the action of administrative departments that still possess the old habit of intervening in the market. But the questions of corruption, of the local interests at stake, the logic of power, in other words everything that makes up the stakes involved in the control of land and of real estate, are not broached. One is left in a sanitised world of regulations and problems disconnected from the actions of groups and individuals. One example of the questions one would have liked the author to answer: who has benefited from the development of land and real estate in Shanghai? Who are the groups present there? What influence do they exert on the decisions that are taken? So many questions, which the author, who seems to know his subject well, should answer in his next work.
Translated from the French original by Nick Oates