CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
2005 ANNUAL REPORT
III. Monitoring Compliance With Human Rights
III(a) SPECIAL FOCUS FOR 2005: CHINA'S MINORITIES AND GOVERNMENT IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REGIONAL ETHNIC AUTONOMY LAW
China's Ethnic Minorities and Minority Policy | Legal Framework For Minority Rights | Self-governance and minority representation | Economic autonomy | Educational autonomy | Religious freedom | Cultural expression | Language policy | Freedom from discrimination | Rights Violations in Xinjiang
* Minorities that are willing to accept state controls and the official depiction of their ethnic groups and histories have been able to preserve their cultures while joining Party and government ranks. Minorities that demand greater effective autonomy and control over their cultural identities, however, regularly confront government policies that violate the Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law. Government policy in Tibetan areas and in Xinjiang most often contravenes the Chinese Constitution and law. The government grants minorities in southwest China that have accepted central authority, like the Zhuang, Yao, and Yi, more freedom to exercise their lawful rights.
* Since 2000, China's autonomous regions have experienced increased economic output and improved transportation and communication networks, but central control over development policy and financial resources has weakened economic autonomy in minority areas and disproportionately favored Han Chinese in Tibetan, Uighur, and other border areas. Central government investment has expanded educational access for minorities since 1949, though minority literacy rates and levels of educational attainment remain below those of the Han. Government-sponsored Han migration to minority areas has exacerbated ethnic tensions, particularly in Tibetan areas, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.
China's Ethnic Minorities and Minority Policy
China's ethnic makeup is complex.1 Fifty-five minority groups speak more than 60 languages2 and practice a variety of religions. Though they constitute less than 9 percent of the total population, minorities are spread across almost two-thirds of the Chinese landmass, chiefly along international borders. More than 30 minority groups have ethnic counterparts in neighboring countries,3 and Communist Party policies in minority areas stress loyalty to China. Government concerns over the loyalty of minorities have increased with the growth of popular movements in neighboring Central Asian states.4
Minorities are typically much poorer than members of the Han majority.5 Chinese authorities argue that tensions between the Han and minorities result primarily from uneven levels of economic development. Officials stress that "all minority problems" can be resolved by promoting socialist development and increasing propaganda on the interdependence of the country's nationalities and on the "correct interpretation of ethnic histories."6 Not all minorities support the central government's development approach, contending that economic advancements disproportionately favor Han Chinese.7 Nevertheless, central authorities report marked improvements in social and economic development within the autonomous areas. When the Party assumed power in 1949, less than 20 percent of the minority population had even limited Mandarin language competency, illiteracy rates were high,8 poverty was widespread, and transportation and communication infrastructure was nearly non-existent. Discrepancies in wealth between minorities and Han Chinese have increased since market reforms began in 1978,9 and literacy rates in many minority areas remain far below the national average.10 Central government investment in minority regions has, however, raised overall educational levels,11 improved transportation and communication networks, and trained a corps of minority cadres willing to work in government.
The Chinese Constitution, the 1984 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL),12 and a number of related laws and regulations define minority rights. The Constitution entitles minorities to establish autonomous governments in territories where they are concentrated, but like all Chinese citizens, minorities must accept the leadership of the Party,13 "safeguard the security, honor, and interests of the motherland," and place the interests of the state "above anything else."14 The REAL grants autonomous governments the authority to formulate regulations reflecting local minority culture as long as they do not directly contravene central policy.15 The law allows autonomous governments to alter, postpone, or annul national legislation that conflicts with local minority practices, but the next higher level of government must approve such changes and they may not contradict the basic spirit of national policies.16
Implementation of the REAL varies greatly by region and by minority group.17 The Chinese government prohibits all Chinese citizens from expressing sentiments that "incite splittism" or "divide nationality unity," but monitors minorities more closely than Han Chinese.18 The government grants a degree of local autonomy to ethnic groups that accept the central government's authority, but silences those who attempt peacefully to advocate their rights under Chinese law. Mongol activist Hada, for example, is serving a 15 year prison sentence for organizing peaceful demonstrations for rights provided in the REAL. Minorities in the southwest have had more freedom to exercise their autonomy because they rarely challenge central authority.19 The government tightly restricts religious practices and expressions of cultural identity in Xinjiang, Tibetan areas, and Inner Mongolia, however. In contrast to southwestern minorities, the Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongols live in cohesive communities largely separated from Han Chinese, practice major world religions, have their own written scripts, and have supporters outside of China. Relations between these minorities and Han Chinese have been strained for centuries.
The government continued to violate minority rights in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang throughout the year, but elsewhere Chinese authorities took some steps to improve the treatment of minorities. In May 2005, the State Council announced new Regulations on Implementing the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL Implementing Regulations). The Regulations include provisions increasing compensation requirements for central government extraction of natural resources from autonomous regions,20 strengthening the monitoring and reporting mechanisms on REAL implementation,21 and developing guidelines for penalizing government officials who violate minority rights.22 The REAL Implementing Regulations also require local governments to educate minorities about their rights and to draft specific measures to protect their rights and interests.23 A university and several governments in autonomous areas announced new legal aid and social services centers throughout the year.24 In March, a group of Darhad Mongols successfully invoked rights provided in the REAL, United Nations regulations, and the national Land Administration Law to bar the construction of a Han Chinese-owned Genghis Khan theme park on a site overseen by Mongols since 1696.25
Despite these positive steps, the REAL Implementing Regulations also increase the role of the central government in autonomous areas, reflecting a broader national campaign to increase Party controls over society. All of the new State Council measures are binding on autonomous governments, including specific economic development projects, language policies, and migration policies that the autonomous governments previously had the authority to determine themselves.26 Central authorities also tightened controls over minority cultural representation and launched an extensive propaganda campaign on the role of China's minorities in building a united, multi-ethnic nation.27 The same campaign stresses that future prospects for minorities depend on cooperating with the Han majority.
Legal Framework For Minority Rights
Minority rights protected under Chinese law may be roughly divided into seven categories: self-governance and representation, economic autonomy, educational autonomy, religious freedom, cultural expression, language use, and freedom from discrimination. Although the laws themselves contain provisions ensuring central control over minority areas,28 much of the discontent among minorities with central authority stems from uneven and incomplete implementation of the law rather than flaws in the legal framework itself.
Self-governance and minority representation
The Constitution entitles minorities living in concentrated communities to establish autonomous governments,29 though their autonomy remains limited in practice. The 1984 REAL grants autonomous governments all of the powers awarded other local governments and the right to formulate three additional types of regulations: self-governing regulations, separate regulations,30 and separate alterations to national laws. None of these regulations may contradict the "basic principles" of national laws or policies, though the local regulations may adapt national laws, regulations, and policies to suit local minority customs.31 Self-governing regulations establish each autonomous government's organizational structure and local economic, cultural, and public service development plans. Self-governing regulations must be approved by the next higher-level government before final submission to the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). To date, the NPCSC has not approved any self-governing regulations of the five provincial-level autonomous regions,32 although 133 of the country's 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties have issued local self-governing regulations.33 Most of these self-governing regulations were passed between 1984 and 1992, and a number of their provisions have not kept pace with continuing changes in central government political, economic, and social policies.34
Autonomous governments have passed 383 separate regulations and 68 alterations to national laws, but they are vaguely worded and address only a limited set of state-approved topics.35 Most of these rules lower the legal marriage age for minorities, and only a few give greater fiscal autonomy or control over local natural resources to the local governments.36 Several Chinese scholars argue that autonomous regulations fail to reflect local minority conditions, rendering the concept of regional autonomy "purely cosmetic."37 The inability of autonomous governments to pass effective local regulations, combined with the poor implementation of such regulations and a lack of trained minority legal personnel, undermines the development of the rule of law in minority areas.38
Chinese legal analysts note that minorities would better accept the formal legal system if autonomous regulations accurately reflected minority customs.39 One minority scholar laments that minorities "often simply give up on litigation and handle matters privately, through customary minority practice" because the courts "ignore the existence of minority customs" and lack financial and political independence.40 Autonomous governments in Muslim areas, for example, have yet to pass legislation to legalize Islamic inheritance customs that directly conflict with the National Inheritance Law.41
The Chinese government has passed a number of laws and policies designed to increase minority representation within the government and state-owned enterprises, but minorities remain underrepresented and fill a disproportionate number of low-level positions in the government.42 The REAL requires that the head of each autonomous government be drawn from the titular minority and that state personnel be drawn equitably from local minority groups. The government has funded 13 institutes of higher education to train minority students and mid-level officials, and promotes minorities with "solid political viewpoints" that match state policies.43 But the educational level of minority government employees remains lower than their Han counterparts,44 and minorities are inadequately represented within economic agencies.45 Although minorities are well represented in the National People's Congress,46 the legislature remains subordinate to the Party and individual deputies wield little power.
Chinese law makes no provision for minority representation within the Party apparatus, where minorities constitute only 6.3 percent of the total membership and rarely hold high-level positions.47 In 2000, each of the 125 regional, prefectural, municipal, and county-level Party first secretaries in Xinjiang was Han, as were the first secretaries of all five provincial-level autonomous regions.48 Reflecting the sensitivity of the subject, neither the press nor scholarly journals discuss minority representation in the Party.49 The Party's official atheism, reflected in a rule prohibiting Party members from practicing religion, also undermines minority participation in Party affairs.50
The central government continues to place Han Chinese "from the interior" into key technical and political posts in autonomous areas and to encourage Han laborers and farmers to move into these regions.51 The government contends that this is necessary to "lead" economic development in these areas and combat efforts to undermine ethnic unity by "hostile domestic and foreign forces."52 The policy has undermined minority autonomy and increased ethnic tensions, most dramatically in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. Central and local directives emphasize that Han leadership is needed to spur development in autonomous areas due to the dearth of educated minorities,53 but the government encourages technically trained minorities to leave the autonomous areas while supporting the influx of both skilled and unskilled Han workers.54 The REAL Implementing Regulations require autonomous governments to "guide and organize" local residents to go to "other areas" in search of jobs and business opportunities.55 By government decree, officials that have been relocated to autonomous areas are better compensated than local administrators. The REAL Implementing Regulations increase the central government's commitment to transferring Han personnel "from all fields and all levels" to minority areas, extending a policy that the State Ethnic Affairs Commission boasts has already sent "tens of thousands of cadres to the border areas since 1982."56
Although the economies of the minority regions have grown substantially since 1949, central authorities often determine development strategies with little input from minority residents. Central authorities provide autonomous governments additional funds and financing options beyond those provided non-autonomous governments.57 At the same time, autonomous areas have become increasingly dependent on central subsidies to support their local operating budgets, particularly since the launch of the Great Western Development program in 2000.58 More than 60 percent of Xinjiang's economy is state-owned, for example, and centrally funded infrastructure projects and major natural resource extraction projects since 2000 have increased the central government's share of the Xinjiang economy. Minorities often complain that they are not benefiting from the central economic development programs,59 though such allegations are difficult to confirm given tight controls over reporting on certain types of economic information.
Chinese law grants autonomous regions the right to manage and protect their natural resources,60 but state policies often ignore such provisions. The Chinese Constitution states that all natural resources are owned by "the state, that is, by the whole people," but the REAL grants autonomous governments the right to assign ownership of the pastures and forests within these areas and requires the state to give minorities some compensation for all natural resources extracted from their territories.61 Human rights groups and Western analysts note that central government grasslands policies threaten to destroy the nomadic lifestyle of many Mongols and Tibetans. These analysts also say that the minorities have been denied a voice in grasslands management.62 Increased Han immigration into Xinjiang has increased pressure on scarce water resources and contributed to rapid desertification.63 Many minorities complain privately that Han developers are stripping away their natural resources and that Han Chinese monopolize high paying jobs in resource extraction projects. The REAL Implementing Regulations require that all natural resource extraction projects in autonomous areas benefit local economic development and employment, though it is too early to tell if the Regulations will result in policy changes. The Regulations also mandate new compliance monitoring and reporting mechanisms and impose administrative and criminal penalties on those violating the Regulations,64 which may encourage greater compliance with the Regulations by developers.
Although the REAL grants autonomous governments the right to control their educational systems,65 the central government retains tight control over the curricula and promotes the use of Mandarin Chinese in the classroom. Autonomous governments and the central government have developed an array of special schools and programs for minorities, increasing the total number of ethnic students enrolled in classes more than 17-fold since 1949.66 Minorities accounted for only 1.4 percent of the total student population in institutes of higher learning in 1949, but the figure rose to 6 percent by 1999.67 Minorities are allowed to enter universities with lower test scores than Han and are eligible for special scholarships. The government has established special year-long preparatory classes for minorities requiring remedial assistance before they enter universities. More than 9,000 students attended such classes in 2001.68 The government has also set up special mobile classes catering to nomadic minority communities.
Minorities are entitled by law to set their own curricula, but in practice the central government strictly controls the content of teaching materials in minority classes to ensure "the proper understanding of nationality relations and advanced socialist thinking."69 Educators in autonomous areas report that the government controls the content of history textbooks strictly. They complain that textbooks written in the local minority script are translations of the standard Chinese texts.70 One Western study found that minority students have difficulty relating to the material in the standard Chinese curriculum and thus lose interest in learning.71
The Constitution entitles minorities, like all citizens of China, to freedom of religious belief, though Uighurs and Tibetans have been effectively stripped of this right. Religion is the central marker of ethnic identity for many minorities, and the government often equates the religious activities of these groups with "ethnic chauvinism" and "local splittism." 72 The government represses Uighur and Tibetan religious practices [see Section III(d)¡XFreedom of Religion and Section VI¡XTibet], though official policy concedes that minority religious beliefs are a "long-term issue" and "cannot be forcibly resolved in the short-term."73 Minorities outside of Xinjiang and Tibetan areas who belong to one of the five officially recognized religions are generally allowed to practice their religions in registered religious venues managed by state-licensed clergy. Many minorities practice religions unique to their ethnic groups (and not one of the five state-recognized religions), which the government tacitly allows as a "minority custom" rather than as a religion per se.74 Autonomous governments are required to teach "scientific thinking," a Party catchphrase for atheism, in the public school system and must prevent religion from "infiltrating" the educational system.
The central government has tightened controls over political expression during the past 12 months throughout the country [see Section III(e)¡XFreedom of Expression], including in minority areas. The government increased already strict controls over how minority cultural traits, histories, and religions are depicted in popular media and schools as well as in academic circles. Officials also tightened controls on cultural expressions about minority relations with Han Chinese and increased propaganda in 2005 highlighting both the achievements of Party minority policy and the official view of minority relations.75 In May, Central Chinese Television broadcasted a series of documentaries on the accomplishments of the regional autonomy system and a feature film set in Tibetan areas and Yunnan depicting "the great melding of nationalities into a single whole, bound by blood and affection."76 Since 1949, the Party has monitored all forms of expression in autonomous areas to assure that minorities accept official Party historiography.77 As recently as 2002, authorities held public book burnings of minority-authored works that conflict with official histories depicting relations among the minorities as harmonious.78 To co-opt the histories of minority groups, the central government has invested in ethnic "cultural enterprise centers" where minorities conduct officially sanctioned research and attend approved cultural festivities and performances.79 The State Council's February 2005 White Paper on Regional Autonomy hails the expansion of minority language publications and broadcasts, artistic troupes, museums, libraries, and histories,80 but also stresses the role of the central government in each of these cultural enterprises.81
The REAL entitles minorities to use and develop their own spoken and written languages,82 though in practice language policy varies by region and ethnic group.83 The law says that minorities should use textbooks written in their own languages "whenever possible" and use these languages as the medium of instruction. Though many minorities continued to use their native languages in primary and some middle schools,84 the central government increased its efforts this year to promote universal competency in Mandarin Chinese throughout the country.85 In some minority areas, local groups reported decreased government support for minority language use, but few overt restrictions.86 In Xinjiang the policy appeared more coercive, as discussed later in this section [for more on language policy in Tibetan areas, see Section VI¡XTibet]. Upward social, economic, and political mobility is increasingly dependent upon one's ability to use Mandarin Chinese. Many minority groups welcome the opportunity to develop their Mandarin skills, while emphasizing the importance of promoting their own minority languages.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region government passed a new regulation in May which, if properly implemented, promises to expand the use of the Mongol language. The regulation calls for increased use of Mongolian in regional colleges, economic incentives for students in Mongolian language schools, merit increases for bilingual government workers, and increased Mongolian media broadcasts. It also mandates greater regional funding for minority language publications and broadcasts.87 The regulation contains more specific provisions for promoting the Mongol language and elevating the status of Mongolian speakers than found in national laws or other local regulations.88 The new regulation also contains enforcement clauses, making it more likely to be implemented than earlier official statements supporting minority language use.
Freedom from discrimination
The Chinese Constitution states that all minorities are equal and prohibits all acts that discriminate against or oppress nationalities. Nevertheless, ethnic discrimination continues to exist throughout China, in both the government's controls over cultural and religious expression and in private and governmental hiring practices. Many Han Chinese entrepreneurs with businesses in autonomous areas intentionally recruit Han workers from neighboring provinces rather than work with local minorities.89 Employers favor those with fluent Mandarin language skills and, in some areas, certain job listings bar specific minorities from applying.90 In the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the highest paying jobs are largely staffed by Han Chinese.91 The central and Xinjiang governments announced personnel decisions in 2005 that explicitly favored Han Chinese over minorities. In April 2005, for example, the government specified that 500 of 700 new civil service positions in southern Xinjiang, where over 95 percent of the population is Uighur, would be reserved for Han Chinese.92 The government actively recruited Chinese from outside of Xinjiang to assume key posts in the autonomous region, while providing insufficient incentives to stem the flow since 1979 of more than 200,000 trained personnel from Xinjiang to the east coast.93 Han Chinese now constitute over 40 percent of the population in Xinjiang, compared to less than 6 percent in 1949. In April 2005, 9,000 workers from Han-populated poor counties in Gansu accepted "long-term contracts" to work on Production and Construction Corps farms in Xinjiang, despite high levels of unemployment among minorities living nearby.94
Rights Violations in Xinjiang95
Since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and independent states were established in Central Asia, the Chinese government has tightened controls over Uighur expressions of ethnic identity.96 Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Chinese government has equated peaceful expressions of Uighur identity with "subversive terrorist plots."97 The Xinjiang government has increased surveillance and arrests of Uighurs suspected of "harboring separatist sentiments" since popular movements ousted Soviet-era leaders in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan.98 In May 2005, the Xinjiang government intensified its "strike hard" campaign against activities it characterizes as ethnic separatism, religious extremism, or international terrorism.99 In September 2005, Chinese authorities declared the "East Turkestan forces" the primary terrorist threat in China, and acknowledged that Xinjiang authorities have increased police surveillance and political controls throughout the region this year.100
Recent government policies only exacerbate ethnic tensions in Xinjiang. The government's promotion of rapid economic development in the region disproportionately benefits Han Chinese and, together with restrictions on religious, linguistic, and cultural freedoms, and government-supported, large-scale Han migration into the area, has increased Uighur resentment and fears of coercive cultural assimilation.101 Although the extensive security apparatus in Xinjiang102 appears for the present to have crushed Uighur calls for greater autonomy, scholars report that "the majority of Uighurs are unhappy with the system of autonomy and the course of politics."103 One prominent Western scholar notes that "repression on this scale may temporarily succeed in subduing the expression of ethnic identity but in the long-term it can only increase the resentment that Uighurs feel . . . and fuel deeper conflict in the future."104
Many of the rights granted by the REAL are given to autonomous area governments rather than to individual citizens, and the government carefully controls the appointment and training of all Uighur officials. According to one U.S. scholar, "in the estimation of ordinary Uighurs, those Uighurs who have risen to top leadership positions have been selected not for their responsiveness to popular concerns but because of their tractability."105 Uighur officials, like ethnic officials in Tibetan areas, are subject to rigorous political indoctrination. As part of the ongoing national "Advanced Culture" campaign, the Xinjiang government insists that all Party members, who must be atheists, carefully study the "correct relationship between religion and advanced socialist culture."106 A 2004 article in the Party's main theoretical journal reported that Xinjiang is intensifying political education for all government workers, particularly for those with "paralyzed thinking . . . who fail to clearly distinguish between legitimate and illegal religious activities." 107
The government continued its campaign to restrict the use of the Uighur language in favor of Mandarin Chinese, despite provisions in the REAL protecting the right of minorities to use and promote their own languages. Government efforts to limit Uighur language use began in the 1980s, but have intensified since 2001 and throughout the past year.108 In May 2002, the Xinjiang government announced that Xinjiang University would change the medium of its instruction to Mandarin Chinese. A March 2004 directive ordered ethnic minority schools to merge with Chinese-language schools and offer classes in Mandarin.109 Despite a severe shortage of teachers in Xinjiang,110 the government is forcing teachers with inadequate Mandarin Chinese out of the classroom.111 Party Secretary Wang Lequan noted in April 2005 that Xinjiang authorities are "resolutely determined" to promote Mandarin language use, which he found "an extremely serious political issue."112 The government favored Mandarin speakers when setting school admission requirements and in hiring government personnel.113
Uighurs have not been able to determine their own school curricula as provided by the REAL. The government demands that teachers place primary emphasis on political instruction over other subjects.114 Any mention of religion in the public schools is strictly prohibited. Primary and middle schools are barred from offering Arabic language instruction because according to the government "Arabic has never been a language used by any of our minorities and has only been used as a religious language by a small number of people."115 In January 2005, Wang urged the Party to rewrite textbooks and "increase the regulation of classroom instruction, academic forums, seminars, and community activities."116 He emphasized the importance of "politicians managing education and politicians operating schools." Throughout the province, schools became the "battlefront for strengthening the Party." 117 The Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture Educational Department criticized teachers for "putting too much emphasis on teaching and not enough on politics."118 In April 2005, Wang announced that more than 1,700 college teachers had completed 20-day training classes on increasing political controls in schools.119
Government controls over expression increased in 2005 as the Xinjiang and central authorities "waged war" against what they called "new plots" to divide the country by those "raising the banner of 'human rights,' 'nationalities,' and 'religion.' "120 A Xinjiang prefectural Party secretary alleged that splittists were using DVDs, popular music, movies, and literature to promote separatism. He also claimed it was necessary to intensify controls over all forms of media and art, increase Party propaganda, use loudspeakers and banners in every village, and remain diligent so that the Party can maintain national unity.121
The government continues to arrest Uighur journalists and authors who write news articles or literary pieces that the government charges "incite separatism" or "disclose state secrets." The Xinjiang authorities define any discussion of "important" ethnic policies as a state secret.122 In February 2005, the Kashgar Intermediate People's Court sentenced Uighur author Nurmemet Yasin to 10 years imprisonment for publishing a short story in the Kashgar Literature Journal allegedly containing allegories "inciting splittism."123 Doctoral candidate Tohti Tunyaz continues to serve an 11 year sentence imposed in 1999 for "revealing state secrets" in Japanese publications on Uighur history.124
The government has sentenced many Uighurs to long prison terms for peacefully expressing discontent with government policies. In August 1999, a Xinjiang court sentenced a group of 18 Uighurs to prison terms of up to 15 years for alleged separatist activities, none of which involved violence.125 The alleged leader of the group, Shirmemhemet Abdurishit, is serving a 15 year sentence.126 Although in March 2005 the government released Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer several months before the end of her eight year sentence for "leaking state secrets," hundreds of Uighur prisoners of conscience remain in prison.127 Authorities began harassing Kadeer's relatives in Xinjiang after she publicly discussed the plight of the Uighurs from her new home in the United States.128
Notes to Section III(a)—Special Focus for 2005: China's Minorities and Government Implementation of the Regional Autonomy Ethnic Law