Presenter: Christine Webster
Speaker: Carl Thayer, specialist in Vietnamese politics and Professor of Politics from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy
WEBSTER: Riot police on Wednesday protected the workers who used bulldozers to level out the agricultural plots in preparation for the 500 hectare Eco Park sout east of Hanoi. Many of the protesters carried farming tools but left peacefully after speaking with local authorities. Carl Thayer is a specialist in Vietnamese politics and Professor of Politics from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He believes farmers in Vietnam are being treated unfairly by the government and developers.
THAYER: Land process and particularly urban land process has been a common feature in the Vietnamese landscape, including the most recent demonstrations. Local cadres feather their nests by engaging in economic development projects, compensation is probably not adequate, and in many cases the people who are affected are not consulted thoroughly and later argue that it is very difficult for them to relocate and find new land.
WEBSTER: Officials say the farmers have been given compensation for the Eco Park development, but is this not enough as they may be losing their livelihood and land?
THAYER: Well yes, when you go back to 2004, there has been massive rise in inflation in the past year. Government officials are saying 70 per cent have accepted and 30 per cent haven't and the local authorities could no longer delay and so moved in to to compensate. So here you have a sort of very typical of the regime, a fait accompli. Where do these people go, the Red River Delta, that area is very highly densely populated and so these people have got to relocate they're agricultural people, they've lost that land, they've lost the cities where they have lived, and probably their families go back generations, so it's a massive impact on them and they will not be beneficiaries of the new township and other developments slated for Eco Park.
WEBSTER: What's going to happen to these farmers? What are their options?
THAYER: Well last year, when some got agitated and demonstrated vociforously, typically the regime picked on the leaders and put them in jail for disturbing public order, which is a very frequent thing. They will be cowed ultimately into accepting a fait accompli, they will be paid compensation, given some sweeteners and promises, and then it will all blow over and the township development will proceed, because there is very little they can do. They have taken their process to the highest level, the National Assembly, but yet, these development have proceeded. Bulldozers have arrived on Wednesday morning and proceeded to start the construction.
WEBSTER: Do these farmers then have any job prospects if that's what they have been doing all their life, working on the land?
THAYER: Well no, and in fact with the high inflation and global economic recession, and Vietnam is hunkering down for a very bad year, this year, 2009. It will be much more difficult for these people. They can't then move into urban areas and get urban jobs, because there is already a problem of employment in Vietnam and they will have to find other agricultural land, which increasingly is remote, going to the Central Highlands, for example, could be an option.
WEBSTER: Are protests becoming more and more common in Vietnam as urban development continues?
THAYER: Yes at various types, but land protests well over a decade and a half old, ever since Vietnam ended collectivisation and came up with not land ownership, the state owns the land, but land use rights, 99 year leases, which since have been used as a way of mortgaging. But once land was collectivised, and then decollectivised, the disputes have been more cadres than those with political connections get the better land.
WEBSTER: The compensation these farmers are given, is this not enough for them to make a fresh new start?
THAYER: Yes, it's probably not going to be at the effective standard of living and the comfortable secure neighbourhood type environments that they were used to. They have to go find and relocate, they will be at the bottom of the rung. So they will probably be able to survive. There is a social welfare net in Vietnam, but we're talking of just under 3,000 US dollars for 350 square metres. It is very hard to buy land in Vietnam at that price.