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China Publishes White Paper on Ethnic Minority Autonomy

eijing – Countries differ in ways of handling ethnic minority affairs, china does this by allowing the right to autonomy to areas where ethnic minority people live in compact communities. On February 28, 2005, the Information Office of the State Council, China’s central government, issued a white paper entitled Ethnic Minority Autonomy in China. The white paper describes the system of ethnic minority autonomy as representing a “choice of major importance” the country has made by proceeding from of its specific conditions.

Facts prove that the system has been crowned with complete success over the past 50 years and more. According to the 12,000-character white paper, by the end of 2003, the Chinese Government had designated 155 places to exercise ethnic minority autonomy. These break down into five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures, and 120 autonomous counties (banners), which together cover around 64 percent of China’s land territory. In areas inhabited mainly by the ethnic majority Han Chinese, ethnic minority people living in compact communities are practicing self-government in 1,173 ethnic minority townships.
Of the 11 ethnic minority groups with too small a population to set up an ethnic minority county, nine have set up ethnic minority townships. The People’s Republic of China Constitution and the Law of Regional Ethnic Minority Autonomy provide full guarantee to people of ethnic minority groups in exercising self-government in areas where they live in compact communities.
According to the white paper, they have the legal right to manage their internal affairs and affairs related to their own areas, to institute local legislation on self-government, and use and develop their own languages. The state is obliged to respect and guarantee their right to freedom of religious belief and their right to preserve or change their own folk customs. Areas of ethnic minority autonomy have the right to independently plan and manage the development of their own economies, as well as the development of educational, scientific, technological and cultural undertakings in their respective areas. The state has the legal obligation to support and assist areas of ethnic minority autonomy in accelerating their own development.
One case in point is the state strategy for developing the west that includes the five autonomous regions: Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Altogether, 60 major development projects have been started in what is broadly referred to as the “western region” since implementation of the strategy was begun in 2000. These involve a combined capital investment of 850 billion yuan (approximately US$ 103 billion). According to the white paper, in 2003 the five autonomous regions together generated 1.0381 trillion yuan in gross domestic product (GDP), for the first time breaking the 1 trillion yuan mark. Infrastructure has improved markedly in all areas of ethnic minority autonomy.
Ethnic traditions and cultures have been well preserved and developed. There has been a significant improvement in education in such areas. Continuous progress has been made in developing medical and health work there. Moreover, foreign trade and tourism have been expanding rapidly in areas of ethnic minority autonomy.
It is more than 50 years since the system of regional ethnic minority autonomy was instituted. Speaking at a press conference on the white paper, Wu Shimin, vice-minister in charge of the State Commission for Ethnic Minority Affairs, noted that the system had undergone constant development and improvement over the decades. “There is the need for us to systematically review the experiences in implementing the system, hence the white paper,” he said. Many countries are trying to find out the correct ways of handling their own ethnic minority affairs, the official said, and they are interested in our way of doing the job. “By publishing this white paper,” he said, “we mean to get involved in international exchanges on ethnic questions, and we are willing to share our experiences in this regard with all other countries.”

(Resource: “China’s Ethnic Groups” ,3,Vol. 03 No. 1 March, 2005)