Institutional Purpose

As with virtually all PRC legislation, implementation of the Property Rights Law will continue to depend on policy imperatives of the Party/state. Yet these are often far from clear or unified. While the Property Rights Law can hardly be said to create new private rights in property where none had existed previously, the statute’s provisions clarifying transactional procedures and limiting the authority of officials to intervene echo policy priorities favoring greater autonomy in property relations. Yet the extent of consensus on these issues remains obscure. Challenges against the constitutionality of the law are not simply the abstract discourses of isolated academics, but rather reflect deep-seated disagreements over the purposes and practices of property law and the implications for Chinese socialism and socialist development.127 The depth of disagreement is evident as well in Wang Zhaoguo’s introductory speech on the law, whose effort to balance economic utility goals with priorities on socialism and fairness was mandated by the extent of political controversy around the basic policies and purposes of the Property Rights Law.128

The struggle for consensus has been heightened by disagreement over rural development policies. The CPC’s Document No. 1 for 2008 affirmed the importance of rural reform,129 but policy debates continue as to how this should proceed. The effort by no less than Hu Jintao to press forward at the Third Plenum of the Seventeenth CPC Central Committee with a major rural reform initiative to grant peasants broader powers to transfer land use rights was partially stymied by conservative opponents.130 While rural reforms were passed at the Plenum after some forty-one revisions,131 the intended scope of land use rights transfers appeared to be limited to “nonagricultural development land” (feinong jianshe yongdi)}32 While this small step challenges the monopoly held by government departments on transfers of land use rights, clearly a consensus has not yet emerged in support of unfettered powers of alienation of property rights for rural land users. For the Property Rights Law to fulfill its intended goals of supporting expanded autonomy in the ownership and use of property while still entrenching the supervisory role of the Party/state, a sustainable consensus will need to emerge in favor of expanding the rights of land use holders to register, protect, and transfer their rights. At present, this prospect seems remote.

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