Hostesses jump for photographers Monday outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the National People's Congress is underway. Photo: AFP
Premier Wen Jiabao stressed Monday that farmers' rights to land are property rights conferred by law and must not be violated by anyone, in a speech reflecting the government's focus on farmers' livelihood and agriculture this year.
"We will place farmland under strict protection, and formulate and promulgate regulations concerning compensation for the expropriation of rural collective land," Wen said at the opening of the annual session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC).
The government will deepen rural reforms while working diligently to determine, register, and certify land ownership. It will also provide better supervision and services for the transfer of contracted land-use rights, Wen said, adding that authorities are working on compensation regulation for collectively-owned farmlands.
Thousands of villagers in Wukan, Guangdong Province went to the polls over the weekend to elect a new village committee, several months after staging massive protests over illegal land sales and other acts of fraud committed by former village officials.
The protests simmered for months before turning violent in December when a village representative died in police custody. Police then sealed off the village to block off protesters, while the villagers barricaded entrances to prevent local security forces and government officials from entering.
Lin Zulian, who earned a high profile for his lead role in raising the village's issues and handling its affairs, was elected as the village chief, the election committee announced.
Many villagers seemed enthusiastic about the poll. The Xinhua News Agency quoted a villager as saying Saturday that the poll enabled him to exercise his rights to self-governance and democracy.
Wen made a trip in early February to Guangdong aimed at soliciting opinions and feedback on government work, during which he highlighted the need to ensure farmers' voting rights and the direct elections of village leaders.
Wen reiterated his stance Monday by saying that democratic elections, management and supervision should be promoted to ensure the people's rights, and corrupt officials should be severely punished.
Wang Yang, Party secretary of Guangdong, told reporters Monday that the election in Wukan simply followed current laws.
"In the past, the (election) might sometimes be a mere formality. We just corrected that problem this time," Wang said, noting that they are sticking to the Party's principle of representing the interests of the people.
Wang said they will learn from the Wukan incident and promote the experience to the rest of the province to guide the building of village committees.
Dang Guoying, a professor at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the Guangdong government's solution to the Wukan incident was praiseworthy.
"As Wang said, grass-roots elections in some areas just go through formalities," Dang said, adding that safeguarding people's property rights and respecting farmers' rights to land are crucial to the country's reform.
Wen also stressed Monday that the government must continue to make solving problems related to agriculture, rural areas, and farmers a top priority in all of its work.
The central government plans to allocate 1.23 trillion yuan ($195.03 billion) for agriculture, rural areas and farmers this year, 186.8 billion yuan more than last year, according to the premier.
"The fundamental way to develop agriculture is through science and technology," Wen added.
China's grain output increased for the eighth consecutive year in 2011 and grain output in each of the past five years has exceeded 500 million tons, partly thanks to the increased scientific and technological services for agriculture.
Yang Jinghao and Xinhua contributed to this story