China gags property boycott protester

Richard Spencer / London Telegraph May 22 2006

China has silenced a businessman who called for a boycott of property purchases in protest at rising house prices.

Zou Tao, who sells golf equipment in Shenzhen, was so outraged with prices that were out of reach of most ordinary Chinese that he launched a petition calling for the public to stop buying real estate for three years. Within days, he had 30,000 signatures from across the country.

Until recently, demands for lower prices would have been tolerated by the government, which is trying to deflate the bubble gently and is also concerned about growing resentment of China's new rich, many of whom have become speculators.

But by this week, when Mr Zou had arrived in Beijing to put his case to the authorities, it had decided he had gone too far, not least in arguing that local government corruption was fuelling the dangerous boom in prices.

He was detained at Shenzhen airport for 10 hours before being allowed to board his flight to the capital.

"I was checking in and found my name was on a blacklist," he said last night. "Then two policemen came over and took away my ID card and my ticket."

When he landed, newspapers who had reported his case were banned from giving him any further publicity. Central television was told to scrap an interview it recorded with him.

The subject is deemed so sensitive not least because there have been warnings a property crash could in theory jeopardise the whole Chinese banking system.

The country's cities have seen double digit price rises. In Beijing, prices rose by 15 per cent in the first quarter alone. Shenzhen is among the worst hit, with rises of 35 per cent in a year.

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