BEIJING (AFP) - China will carry out a groundbreaking trial programme that may allow farmers to sell land, a senior official said on Wednesday, a step towards liberalising rural real estate transactions currently monopolised by the government.
The ability to sell land is expected to accelerate China's urbanisation, a key driver of its decades-long economic boom, by enabling farmers to realise value from their assets, facilitating their move to the cities.
Under current Chinese law, all land in the country is ultimately owned by the state or by rural collectives, while farmers can retain usage rights in the countryside.
Only the government has the power to appropriate land, often with little or no compensation, and can then sell it to property developers at a huge profit, leading to widespread social resentment and frequently triggering unrest.
A total of 33 county-level areas including Beijing's Daxing district - the site of the capital's new airport - will suspend some regulations that ban the free trading of some non-farming land, according to Ms Fu Ying, a spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature.
The programme will allow "rural land for business purposes" - usually real estate used for industry or commerce - to be traded on the market, meaning farmers are no long restricted to selling it to the government, according to a report posted earlier on the NPC's website.
"This reform is to support the development of agriculture modernisation and urbanisation, and it intends to better protect farmers' rights and interests during the process of reforms," Ms Fu told reporters at a news conference.
The Communist Party pledged at its Third Plenum in 2013 to grant farmers the same rights as urban dwellers by creating a legal basis for them to transfer or rent out their "land use rights".
The trial is an implementation of that promise and may increase rural incomes while reducing clashes between local governments and farmers, Mr Wang Cailiang, director of Beijing Cailiang Law Firm, told AFP.
"But it is an open question whether this will be a good or bad thing for the future," he added.
"The key of this issue is... who will be the decision maker of the land. If it is still to be decided by the county-level governments, property developers or village officials instead of farmers, I think the trial programme will be a step backwards."