Pledge to improve lives of Mongols after protests
The chairman of the Inner Mongolian government pledged yesterday to take immediate action to improve livelihoods in the autonomous region, especially those of ethnic Mongols, after recent protests had authorities scrambling to come up with ways to address rising ethnic tension.
It was a 'major political task' to address poor people's grievances and provide them with better lives, Bagatur said in a lengthy article published yesterday in Seeking Truth - a party mouthpiece magazine. It was essential in order to 'maintain ethnic harmony' and 'guard against hostile outside forces', he said.
The resource-rich region has also intensified efforts to regulate its lucrative coal mining industry, blamed for damaging the traditional grasslands of ethnic Mongolian herders and causing environmental degradation.
The region's coal industry bureau had ordered a month-long overhaul of the mining industry, aimed at 'ensuring safe production practices, protection of the environment and attention to the welfare of local residents', Xinhua reported yesterday.
It would speed up an earlier drive that was launched last month to consolidate the mining industry, the report said. The death of a herder under a coal truck, which triggered scattered protests in several cities, had 'led to heightened concerns over industry practices in the resource-rich region's mining sector', it said. Bagatur promised that local governments in the region would devote at least 50 per cent of their spending to improving people's livelihoods, and average annual incomes for farmers and herders would be increased from 5,530 yuan (HK$6,640) to 10,000 yuan by the end of 2015.
'Society has entered a stage where social conflicts are obvious,' he wrote. 'Conflicts between socio-economic development and expectations among different groups for a better living standard are obvious.'
He said action must be taken to prevent outside forces from wielding influence in the region, which borders Mongolia and Russia.
Analysts say the tense situation in the autonomous region, which had been relatively calm until recently, had alarmed local and Beijing authorities, who had focused their ethnic policies on Tibet and Xinjiang , paying little attention to Inner Mongolia, which makes up more than 12 per cent of China's land area.
Before last week's protests, no large-scale protests had been seen in the region for 30 years, when students boycotted classes and others took to the streets over government plans to bring in Han people.
Analysts have urged more policy studies on Mongols to help authorities come up with better policies to cater to the needs of the ethnic minority.
Professor Xiong Kunxin , an ethnic theory and policy specialist at Minzu University of China, said not many academics and officials were concerned with the Mongols in the region, compared with ethnic issues in Tibet and Xinjiang.
'Inner Mongolia is comparatively stable, and its economy is developing steadily. The problems in the region are relatively less, so there is not much research into it,' he said.
'We should do more research on the region, and the relationship between Han people and the Mongolians, which is helpful in maintaining stability.'
Dr Barry Sautman, an associate professor who focuses on ethnic Chinese politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the Mongols did not get as much attention as Tibetans and Uygurs because they had few international connections. Tibetans have international connections through the Dalai Lama, making their issues well known to the outside world. Converts to Tibetan Buddhism overseas and the relationship between the Tibetan exiles and the Indian government also helped spread their voices.
In Xinjiang, the Uygurs have connections with other Turkic people in neighbouring countries and all the way to Turkey.
'But with Mongolians, the only real connection that they have internationally is with Mongolia. And actually that is not a very sound connection on which to pursue some kind of separatist effort,' Sautman said.
The economy of Mongolia is not as well developed as Inner Mongolia's, and integrating the inner region with Mongolia does not sound like an attractive proposition, he said. Mongolian exiles also did not have a large impact in the region, and so the ethnic Mongols there did not get much attention.
Xiong said the authorities should consult ethnic groups before launching any new development projects, and representatives from the government and coal mining companies should negotiate compensation deals with the herders.
Sautman said the government should improve preferential policies for the ethnic Mongol minority, ensuring that herders and farmers were taken care of.
The GDP of Inner Mongolia last year, which showed a growth of 16.9 per cent from 2008. Its per capita GDP was 37,287 yuan in 2009