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China Lauds Minority Rights on Key Anniversary

Ben Blanchard, Reuters
August 8, 2007



With its name inscribed by the Chinese President Hu Jintao, the "National Unity Treasury Tripod", was sent to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to celebrate the 60 years so-called "national unity" of the region (photo from Inner Mongolia News)



BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday lauded the 60th anniversary of the founding of Inner Mongolia, its first self-proclaimed region run by ethnic minorities, saying the fate of minorities and the Han Chinese was inextricably linked.

China's Communists set up Inner Mongolia in 1947, two years before seizing power at the end of the Chinese civil war. It has served as a model for other "autonomous regions" with large minority populations, like Tibet and Xinjiang.

They are meant to have a high degree of self-government, but dissidents and rights groups say in practice the majority Han Chinese run the show with a tight rein, fearful of unrest in the strategic border areas these regions mainly occupy.

People who espouse greater political, cultural or religious freedoms, like Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, are often harassed, jailed or forced out of the country.

China insists there is no discrimination -- but also that it will brook no opposition to its rule.

"The minority nationalities cannot be separated from the Han, and the Han cannot be separated from the minorities," Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu told the audience at celebrations in a huge new stadium in Inner Mongolian capital Hohhot.

Vice-President Zeng Qinghong added that under the party's leadership Inner Mongolia's economy had boomed.

"The successful experience of Inner Mongolia's last 60 years tells us that if you want prosperous regional development, unity and stability, you have to uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party," he said, in comments carried live on television.

Decades of migration by the dominant Han have made Chinese Mongolians a minority in their own land, officially comprising less than 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's almost 24 million population.

The government, also marking the one-year countdown to the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday, says it protects and promotes the rights and culture of the Mongolians.

"The religious beliefs and customs of the various peoples have been totally respected," Zeng added, under a vast expanse of blue sky and to an audience dressed in colorful traditional Mongolian garb. 

Not everybody is celebrating, though.

An ethnic Mongolian, Hada, jailed for separatist activities and considered by Amnesty International to be a prisoner of conscience, remains behind bars.

"For the Mongols, it is 60 years of human tragedy, environmental destruction, social crisis and psychological trauma," said Enghebatu Togochog, president of the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre.

Zeng said the government would not tolerate "splittism", or separatism.

"(We must) appropriately deal with incidents which affect ethnic unity and social stability, and sternly be on guard and strike hard against foreign and domestic enemy splittist forces and sabotage," he said.

Little is known about human rights issues in Inner Mongolia, as the Mongolians do not have well-known overseas advocates like Tibet's Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee called the "mother of the Uighur people".

(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng)




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China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

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