Friday, 1 December 2017

Property Tycoon Questions Migrant Worker Crackdown

Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang questions why China uses hukou system
Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang has been known for speaking his mind, and last year he got into trouble when he criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping's call for the media to show loyalty to the Communist Party.

He was back voicing his opinion on Wednesday, comparing China to North Korea over its rigid household registration system called hukou.

A migrant worker takes last look at where he lived in Beijing
At an annual conference of financial magazine Caijing in Beijing, Ren, 66, said the registration system was "adopted only by a limited number of countries, including China and North Korea", and that Beijing's ongoing eviction of migrant workers was a deluded way to solve the city's problems.

The government is currently getting rid of thousands of migrant workers in mostly the outskirts of the capital, either knocking on doors late at night and giving people 15 minutes to clear out all their stuff before demolishing their homes, or cutting off water and electricity as a sign to move on, just as the cold winter sets in.

The evictions are part of a campaign to address safety threats in the aftermath of a residential fire that killed 19 people last month.

Thousands of migrant workers evicted from Beijing
While the government may think this is an effective way to quickly get rid of people it doesn't want in the city, these migrant workers are crucial cheap labour doing menial jobs that need to be done. Most recently hundreds were evicted from an area near Beijing Capital International Airport where they work.

"The Beijing government once boasted that there was no family with housing problems in the city -- but it was only talking about locals," said Ren, the former chairman of Huayuan Property, a company owned by the Beijing government.

"The biggest problem with China's [housing] market adjustment and control policies is that they are illegitimate," he said.

Ren said there was no law giving the authorities the right to interfere in property prices, but in reality all local governments could cap these prices at a level they deemed appropriate.

A fire in Daxing prompted evictions of migrant workers
However, he added, land sales -- a key source of revenue for local governments -- were left alone, even though they were the main reason property prices had skyrocketed.

"If China doesn't solve the land problem and change the household registration system, all of its so-called long-term [market] mechanisms will be built on sand," he warned.

For years Ren has openly criticized the government's policies to control the property market and other political and social issues. He had 37 million followers on Weibo before his account was deleted in February last year when he questioned why the media should be loyal to the party when news outlets were funded by taxpayer money and so they should serve the public, not the party.

"When did the people's government turn into the party's government? [Are the media] funded by party membership dues?" he wrote at the time.

Following his comments, Ren came under attack by state media, and a news site linked to the Beijing municipal party committee declared he was spreading "anti-Communist Party" thought, and he represented capitalists who sought to topple the party's rule. He was then placed under a year's probation by the party in May and has kept a low profile -- until now.

Will he get in trouble for his criticism of the country's hukou system? Looks like so far so good...

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