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New Pledge to Protect Arable Land
A senior official with the Ministry of Land and Resources yesterday pledged greater efforts to protect the country's valuable cultivatable land from surging real estate development.

The ministry will use remote sensing measures and on-the-spot checks to ensure strict adherence to rules and regulations in the use of land for construction.

"Every land utilization should be part of strictly authorized programs," said Fan Zhiquan, director of the Department of Cultivated Land under the ministry.

Where wrongful land-use activities have been detected, the ministry will co-operate with related governmental departments to fine responsible organizations and impose administrative or even criminal penalties on the parties involved, said Fan.

Fan expressed considerable confidence in maintaining the country's cultivatable land, noting that even with such a huge demand for land due to the country's fast economic development, China managed to sustain its valuable cultivatable land at a "reasonable" level last year.

Statistics indicate the country's total area of cultivatable land was 126 million hectares by December 31, 2002, the time closure of the ministry's annual survey on land use changes for that year.

While last year saw the greatest construction land consumption in recent years with an amount of 409,205 hectares, seizing 196,600 hectares of cultivatable land, the country managed to gain 260,930 hectares more of cultivatable land mainly through land reclamation and cultivating wild land.

Fan called the above-mentioned result a hard-won but inspiring "achievement."

"It (the result) boosts our confidence that we can maintain enough cultivatable land to feed our people, while supporting our economic development for a brighter future," said Fan.

Protection of cultivatable land has given the ministry a giant headache, as the development of protective measures often comes into conflict with the development of infrastructure facilities and housing.

But Fan said the ministry's special investigation into national land reserves, which wrapped up last year, has dismissed the excuse of some local governments that they have no way out when confronted with the contradiction.

"Plenty of land for construction will emerge through urban land sorting," he said, indicating the bad urban planning of many Chinese cities in the past allows for more economic land use in the future.

The cases of Changchun, capital of Northeast China's Jilin Province, and Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province, provide examples of this problem.

While the former had 2,868.1 hectares of its total 3,268.3 hectares of land used for urban construction between 1999 and 2002 from idle industrial-use land and better planned urban upgrade, the latter had 44 percent of its construction land for 2002 from idle urban land.

(China Daily February 26, 2003)

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