Jun 19, 2012 12:58 PM

Shenzhen's No Man's Land


(Beijing) – There once was a promised land, but in a city constantly remaking itself, such agreements are subject to change. In 1987, Shenzhen was the first local government to allow land ownership auctions. Now, it is set to enact market reforms by first reclaiming disputed land. But before that happens, just one small thing needs to be cleared up – who actually owns the property.

Farmers that have toiled on roughly 400 square kilometers of land surrounding the city center for decades say it is theirs. Some carry titles approved by the government, and others have shares in legal entities that control the land. These are the result of prior reforms – some of which outlived others in terms of enforcement.

The latest reforms seek to clear this up with unprecedented urgency. Wang Shouzhi, director general of the Policy and Regulation Department of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said that 50 percent of Shenzhen's land is currently developed. Given this, Wang said policymakers worry that supply problems will only worsen with the exchange of ownership for property rights.

Under the new guidelines, "former rural land" – the 400 square kilometers– will be re-titled by authorities after an extensive survey.

The limitations on developing land are written in central government regulations, meaning policymakers can only develop another 42 square kilometers before 2020. In 2010, the city's total area covered nearly 2,000 square kilometers, of which roughly only 150 square kilometers were left unmarked for agricultural use or city construction.

Policymakers say the latest guidelines seek to take back rural land illegally used by local farmers. The success of Shenzhen's new rules could set the pace for reforms throughout the country. Experts argue the rural land is being underutilized. In terms of usage efficiency, in 2010 Shenzhen's GDP output per square kilometer was 477 million yuan, far behind Singapore (1.84 billion yuan) and Hong Kong (1.43 billion yuan).

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