A county in the restive Xinjiang region has introduced a package of perks and cash rewards to encourage people from ethnic minorities to marry members of the Han majority.
Under rules introduced late last month, any inter-ethnic couples in Qiemo county, also known as Qargan, who register their marriages there can apply for a 10,000 yuan (HK$12,570) annual payment, the local government said on its website. Payments will be made each year for up to five years as long as the marriage remains "harmonious".
"Our major consideration was to stabilise Xinjiang and promote cultural integration among different ethnic groups," a county official said of the policy.
The official said Qiemo was the first county in Xinjiang - where the average annual rural income is 7,400 yuan - to introduce such a payment, and the first in the country to roll out detailed preferential policies to encourage inter-ethnic marriage.
He said there were 54 such marriages on the county's books but no new unions had been registered since the new policy took effect. The payments only apply to couples registering after the policy's introduction.
The county, which is in the south of the far-western region, has a population of more than 100,000. More than 72 per cent are Uygur and fewer than 26 per cent Han. Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people, make up a large minority of Xinjiang's population.
On top of the cash rewards, Qiemo has promised education and health care subsidies to the couples and their children.
The local government will also pay 90 per cent of each family's medical expenses that are not covered by existing government insurance schemes.
Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based expert on ethnic affairs, said marriage between members of different ethnic groups in Xinjiang was very rare, and economic incentives would not be effective. "Most Uygurs only accept marriage within their ethnic and religious group. Those who marry Han usually choose to move out of Xinjiang to avoid tension," Jiang said.
"There's nothing wrong with encouraging communication and cultural integration between Uygur and Han, but I doubt that spending taxpayers' money on a reward scheme to encourage mixed marriage would be the best way to do so," he said.
Dilxat Raxit, of exiled group the World Uygur Congress, told Radio Free Asia the local government was using the rewards to try to speed up the assimilation of Uygurs. Raxit said the Turkic culture of the Uygurs was different from Han culture in almost every way.