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Cracks in China's Information Restriction Policy in Southern Mongolia

Sep 14, 2008
by Narisu


A Mongolian language internet forum shutdown by the Chinese authorities for posting "separatist" contents.



The Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region (IMAR) was established in 1947 as the first Autonomous Region in China, with the promise of a high level of autonomous rights, as written in the Chinese Constitution. During the Sino-Japanese War in 1935 Mao went so far as to say that the people of Southern Mongolia might become independent after the War of Resistance. Seen through the eyes of history, this promise was only a pretext by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in their drive to exert control over Southern Mongolia. This did in fact happen following World War II, with the collapse of the Kuomintang government. The PLA occupied Southern Mongolia in 1947 and this occupation continues until today. Mao’s promise of independence was never realized and the IMAR never really gained any of the autonomous rights as mentioned in the Chinese Constitution. One particularly egregious example of the control exerted over Southern Mongolia by the CCP during the past 60+ years has been the extremely repressive policy of information control.

But the policy of strict information control was not the only repressive policy rolled out by the CCP in the process of consolidating their control over the IMAR. In 1959, the Inner Mongolian Cavalry was sent to Tibet to quell the Tibetan protests. Following the successful suppression of protests in Tibet, the Mongol troops were quickly disbanded. As a result, Southern Mongolia lost their army. At the same time, the CCP implemented an emigration policy encouraging Han farmers from faraway provinces to enter Southern Mongolia to turn the pasturelands into farmland. It’s beyond the scope of this discussion to point out the environmental disasters and desertification that has ensued as a result of this misguided policy but during the period 1949-1960 especially, and continuing to today, millions of Han Chinese entered Southern Mongolia. As a result, this population shift diluted dramatically the native Mongol population with the proportion of ethnic Mongols decreasing to below 20% today. With these two policies, the Chinese government essentially neutralized any threat of a concerted Mongol military action in the event that a Mongol leadership arose that could exploit the army, and simultaneously turned the Mongols into a minority in their own lands. This of course meant that competition for economic and other resources would be more or less in favor of the Han. There was little consideration paid to Mongol interests. Another equally insidious social policy which also didn’t come down from previous Chinese governments or regimes, was to make concrete the Sun Yat-sen republican slogan of the ‘Five Peoples’ and force the new name “Chinese People” on all the minority groups in China. Refusal to accept this new label meant you were a separatist, which made it easy for the CCP to suspend any of the autonomous rights sections of the Constitution. So the CCP had a built-in mechanism for making minority rights provisions of the Constitution completely null and void merely by labeling someone or some group a separatist. 

So how has the information restriction policy been implemented in the IMAR?  Essentially it has meant a complete blockade of information exchange through any media between the IMAR and the country of Mongolia. The aim of this policy was to remove the influence of Mongolia in the Southern Mongolian region. This particular dynamic started from the earliest days of the IMAR and continues to the present. As a result, most Southern Mongols do not even know who the President of Mongolia is or anything about the situation in Mongolia, or vice versa. One rather benign relaxation of the information control policy was that beginning in the 1980`s, the restriction on Mongol songs and music was relaxed somewhat. But even today, it’s very difficult for Mongols to obtain access to distribution rights and manufacture of musical and artistic media.

One consequence among many of these government social and information control policies has been the marginalization of the Mongol citizenry from mainstream society. Information control has served to isolate the Southern Mongols psychologically from their brethren in Mongolia, as well as the rest of the outside world. And it has worked both ways, the outside world and Mongolia have little knowledge of the history and events that have affected the Mongols of IMAR. In this way, the policies have achieved their objective, to eliminate any capability of the Mongols to establish a political consciousness and forge a unified body politic. An isolated minority group incapable of rallying around a core political or national consciousness with trivial economic and military options can be easily ruled, and equally important, will be easily assimilated into the ocean of the Han Chinese population. So today, in the IMAR, the Han control the vast proportion of the politics and economy of the IMAR and yet the CCP continues to remain hugely suspicious of their Mongol citizens (referred to in the official press as “Mongolian brothers and sisters”) with their continuing policies of information control, denial of human rights and frequent jailing of ‘separatists’. No imperialist power in history has been as successful as the CCP in manipulating their people.

But today in the Age of the Internet as well as a much more cohesive economic world, many young Mongols studying abroad have posed a challenge to the restrictive Chinese information policy and made some cracks in the blockage wall. Because many young people who were educated in the Mongolian language have difficulty getting a job in Southern Mongolia, they have chosen to go abroad. Even many Southern Mongols who have jobs have decided to leave because of cultural conflicts in their work place. The number of Mongol groups abroad has increased, and the outside information flow into Southern Mongolia has created an information highway which the Chinese information blockade has not been able to completely stop. A number of Southern Mongolian home pages and forums have appeared. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), a New York based human rights organization sends out news about human rights and environmental issues in Mongolian, English, Chinese and Japanese. On-line forums such as the Free Forum of Mongolian Students in Japan have influenced Southern Mongolian students in Japan. They can talk more freely about many Southern Mongolian issues abroad which they cannot discuss in Southern Mongolia. The Chinese Government had a swift response to these websites and both have been blocked within China. Also most of the overseas Mongol websites which discuss Southern Mongolian issues have been banned within China. An enormous effort is being maintained by the CCP just to eliminate access to all these websites which they view as unacceptable, but it’s likely that for each one they block, one or more similar ones will arise and so they continue to wage a bigger and bigger war on these banned websites. How long can the CCP afford to do that? What real payoff is there for the CCP to spend resources towards this effort which in the end will find its way into public awareness anyway? 

The numbers of Mongols going abroad continues and is not likely to stop. They will continue to bring information from the outside using various methods. In an age of advancing information technology and easy access to the internet, covering people’s eyes through information control runs counter to the international tide supporting open information exchange even if democracy is not the aim of the CCP. Given this backdrop, a people who are cut off from the outside world and the advantages of the Internet can only be a burden to the progress of a nation. It seems that the CCP is still far away from accepting this idea. This is to the detriment of all the peoples of China. 

In 1987, President Reagan made his famous speech in Berlin, asking ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear this wall down.” It’s regrettable that on his recent visit to Beijing, President Bush did not echo these famous words and ask the Chinese “Mr. Hu, tear this information blockade wall down.”



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