Land Disputes On The Rise Across Asia
Government Seizure Of Private Land Creating Internal Dissention Across Asia
Territorial disputes in Asia are nothing new, but usually they involve disagreements between two governments, such as Japan and China. However, as individual governments seek to increase development and reduce poverty in rural areas they are more aggressively pursuing to undertake projects on “vacant” and “unused” land that promise to bolster the economy and create jobs – even if that means appropriating land from private citizens.
This practice is not going well with citizens across the ASEAN countries.
“Although the specific context varies from country to country and perhaps even case-by-case, the common features throughout the region are an inadequate legal framework within each country dealing with land ownership and occupancy, the dilemma between customary land occupancy and formal land ownership, and market forces driving policies in support of large agribusiness and other major development projects on these lands,” says John Cherry in The Diplomat.
In Cambodia, since 2003 as may as 700,000 rural people have been affected by the transfer of 2.6 million hectares of land to private business from mostly subsistence farmers, according to rights groups. The ease at which the government can seize land is a legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime, which banned private-property ownership when it ruled in the 1970s.
Anger with the increasing encroachment on private land has energized the opposition party and is proving to be the greatest threat to the tenure of Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-serving prime minister with 28 years in the post, reports Chun Han Wong and Sun Marin in The Wall Street Journal.
While Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party did win 68 of 123 seats in the legislature, it was a significant decline from the 90 seats held by the ruling party since 2008 and reflects how discontent has bolstered the opposition.
“The implications of the current dilemma of land tenancy for Southeast Asia’s leaders are serious. Although it seems unlikely that a rural-based revolution will emerge to overthrow a government anywhere soon, the issue will continue to fester as a source of societal tension, as the well-connected continue to prosper and the rural poor become more impoverished,” Cherry adds.