Beijing boost for Inner Mongolia
Beijing is pledging more policies directed at the 'sound and rapid' development of Inner Mongolia and to improve the livelihoods of people there, after recent protests by herdsmen in the northern autonomous region.
Officials consider the area to be 'of strategic importance for the country's economic and social development, as well as for its prosperity and stability in bordering areas,' according to Xinhua's report of a State Council executive meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jianbao .
Farmers' and herdsmen's lives will be 'significantly improved' by 2015, and basic public services will be 'upgraded remarkably,' while efforts will be taken to curb the region's deteriorating environment, the report said. 'By 2020, the income of urban and rural residents in Inner Mongolia should surpass the national average.'
The report highlights Beijing's concern over tension in the ethnic Mongolian region, which had been quiet and stable for decades - until riots by farmers, herders and students broke out in several cities.
The protests, triggered in late May by the death of a herder who tried to block a coal truck from taking a shortcut across fragile grazing land, shed light on the frustration of farmers and herders who have seen little benefit from the development of the resource-rich region and seen their livelihoods take a hit from the booming mining industry.
The council also pledged to boost employment, improve the social security system and accelerate the development of education, health care, culture and sports.
Promises were also reportedly made to improve environmental protection to the point that the ecological system is brought into balance by 2020.
The government plans to reduce desertification and soil erosion while continuing to support a massive subsidy programme launched in 2003 by the central government to protect grasslands from overgrazing.
Other goals include increasing forest coverage to 21.5 per cent by 2015, and bringing grassland vegetation coverage to 43 per cent, the cabinet pledged.
By 2013, the government will ensure that farmers, herders and forestry centre employees in the region will have safe water to drink, as well as improved access to electricity.
Following the protests in the region, the central government has warned of the influence of outside forces in the area, which borders Russia and Mongolia.
A court sentenced the driver of the coal truck to death earlier this month, shortly after killing the herder, named Mergen.
The protests are also seen as a test for rising political star Hu Chunhua, party secretary for Inner Mongolia, seen as a protege of President Hu Jintao .
Beijing has shown its attention to the welfare of ethnic minorities in the past by introducing similar policies in the Tibet and Xinjiang autonomous regions following bloody ethnic conflicts in those areas.
Inner Mongolia's size in square kilometres. It covers 12 per cent of the mainland's total area, smaller only than Xinjiang and Tibet