Tag Archives: China ethnic policy

Recommendations Regarding Hydropower Development and the Rights of China’s Ethnic Peoples

Most of China’s water resources are found in China’s western regions with 70% coming from China’s southwest.  Since the beginning of this century, the core of China’s hydropower development focused on middle and upstream portions of rivers in southwest China. This region also serves as the central native land of many of China’s ethnic minorities.  In early 2013, China’s State Council issued a plan for resource development in its 12th five year plan with details to design and begin construction on more than 60 major hydropower projects between 2011 and 2015.  China is entering into an explosive period of rapid and unprecedented development of its hydropower industry.

For the next twenty years more than 8 million ethnic minorities will be affected by the development and planning of dams.  With the expressed state agenda of establishing a sustainable hydropower industry, achieving social stability in ethnic minorities areas, and realizing the “Chinese dream” for all of China’s citizens, how will the Central government guide law and policy to provide rational standardization, coordination, and management to the interests of the state, industry, and of ethnic minority groups?

According to the principles of “Encouraging the Benefits of Ethnic Autonomous Areas” set forth by the Chinese Constitution, the Law of Ethnic Autonomous Zones advanced a new regulation in 2005 to “encourage the production and livelihood of local ethnic minorities.”  This broad-based regulation passed as part of one of three items in the addendum to the State Council’s PRC Legislation on the Autonomy of Ethnic Regions. Yet to date, there is no specific clarification to the rights of local ethnic minorities or details concerning the autonomy of ethnic areas within the language of the basic law.  The administrative regulations of the State Council list only one related clause: The regulation of peaceful migration should respect the production methods, the lifestyle, and customs of ethnic minorities.

A new policy promulgated in 2012 by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) requiring state sponsored development projects to first oversee the migration of peoples before beginning construction has no mention of protecting the rights of local ethnic minorities. Laws and regulations related to the issue of ethnic minority protection do indeed exist, but because there is no guarantee on the methods of protecting procedural justice or monitoring processes, these laws and regulation cannot reach efficient levels of execution.  Not long ago, the publications of the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Party Congress emphasized the Chinese Communist Party’s views of ethnic policy, guaranteeing the legal benefits of ethnic minorities and bolstering and developing the equal unity and mutual harmonious relations of socialist peoples.

In past years, researchers carrying out investigative field study on the beneficial effects of hydropower development toward the ethnic peoples of the Jinsha River, Lancang (Mekong) River, Nu (Salween) River, Yalong River, Min River, and the Dadu River discovered that the everyday livelihoods and production methods of ethnic peoples living along these rivers are immensely affected by the development of hydropower projects.  In the early development and planning stages, hydropower projects are requested to maintain a holding status before beginning construction.  For many unknown reasons this holding status could continue for many years.  The clearing of roads with dynamite creates air and noise pollution and along with the risks of falling rocks and landslides, greatly affects the safety of people and livestock and the volume of agricultural harvests.  Dam construction and rising waters force people to move.  This uprooting destroys longstanding social networks, privately held assets and shared natural resources such as traditional collecting, fishing, and grazing methods that rely on forests, pasture lands and wetlands.  What is lost is not justly compensated for.

The rights of ethnic groups to be informed, to participate, to express views, and to monitor procedures are not respected or guaranteed with the development of hydropower projects and in many ways these rights are illegally violated.  The relevant institutions of local governments cannot realistically carry out existing laws and regulations, and hydropower firms ignore the law failing to take social responsibility for the protection of vulnerable groups.  Large scale hydropower firms – particularly central level hydropower firms – exact great profits from local areas but remit taxes to the major cities in which they are registered.  The benefits received by localities are greatly out of proportion with the costs borne.


In consideration to the issues raised above and to the demands of the 18th Party Congress, the suggestions below should be considered. Generally, the Central government should re-examine existing hydropower projects and immediately clarify and formulate policy that guarantees the benefits of ethnic peoples in China’s western regions affected the by hydropower development.

1.       Clarify policy and approaches suitable for Western ethnic regions

In western ethnic regions, the Central government should incorporate a guarantee of the basic rights of ethnic peoples as an indicator of sustainable development. The Central government should coordinate development of hydropower projects in ethnic areas giving basic consideration to resource safety, economic development, guarantees of the rights of ethnic peoples, and ecological protection. The activities surrounding hydropower development should respect and guaranteed the basic rights of ethnic people including political, economic, and cultural rights. In accordance to law, ethnic peoples should not be discriminated against and should equally participate in and enjoy the benefits of resulting from economic development in their localities.  They also have the rights to maintain their value systems, religious observance, and unique ways of living.  Moreover they have rights to protect the natural resources such as the land, rivers, forests, and pastureland on which they have existed for many years.

Moreover, the Central government should amend the legal and policy framework on the Law of Ethnic Autonomous Zones within the Chinese Constitution to protect the basic rights of citizens and ethnic peoples.  While strengthening relevant polices, the Central government should expedite policy on formulating specific guarantees of the protection of peoples affected by hydropower development and ensure the implementation and execution of these policies.

2.       Guarantee procedural justice in the processes of hydropower development

In the development of hydropower projects, firms and local governments should respect and protect the rights of ethnic groups and individuals to be informed, participate, make decisions, and monitor procedures. Hydropower firms should establish corporate social responsibility systems that pay particular attention to respecting and protecting the rights of ethnic peoples while operating.  Firms should incorporate this kind of responsibility into their specific duties and make public record of their CSR work on a regular basis.  Firms should also take initiative in accepting monitoring presences of multiple levels of society.

The Central government should establish systems for assessing the impact on the rights of ethnic peoples.  Results of the impact assessment should serve as key findings for the approval of hydropower projects.

The Central government should monitor the entire process of relocation of people related to hydropower development and provide support and effective relief to ethnic peoples whose rights are violated.  The government should establish and open various channels of complaints mechanisms, provide various forms of legal assistance, and eliminate obstacles that prevent ethnic groups and their members in accessing these systemic mechanisms to realize their rights and receive relief.


3.       Guarantee mutual benefit for ethnic people and hydropower development

In ethnic areas, large-scale hydropower firms and central level hydropower firms, by principle, should register for license in the locale in which they operate and pay taxes to that locale.  An alternative could be for the hydropower firm and the autonomous local government should come to agreement on an appropriate distribution of taxes to the locale under the supervision of relevant managing government organizations,

Hydropower firms and local governments should make best efforts to reduce the relocation of people due to hydropower construction and resolutely block forced migration.  Hydropower firms and local governments should make best efforts to reduce the negative impacts of hydropower development on ethnic people’s environment, economy, society, culture, and spirit.  Hydropower firms and local governments should provide fair and appropriate compensation to ethnic groups and individuals for the material, physical, and spiritual damage and impacts caused by activities related to hydropower development.

Hydropower firms and local governments should appropriately provide accordant compensation for negative social, economic, and cultural impacts of past hydropower projects on the basis of social impact assessment and an impact assessment on ethnic people’s rights. Hydropower firms should provide monies for the protection of resources and development funds in affected communities. Firms should provide compensation to and protect the resources and development of intangible assets, communally shared natural resources, and collective impacts that are difficult to compensate at the individual level.

Local governments should adopt measures to protect the cultural heritage of ethnic peoples, to aid ethnic peoples in the passing down and development of their own history, culture, language, traditions, and customs and guarantee the protection of their own cultural heritage and historical traditions.

4.       Fully utilize the function of social organizations

In the realm of social administration, the diversification of social administration is a common and successful experience of developed countries.  It is also a mainstream trend of modern social administration.  Popularized global “New Administration” philosophies purport:

“Governments are not the only pillar of public rights. rather citizens, individuals, and non-government organizations can become pillars of public management.  Under a set of shared goals non-government organizations can participate in public policy making processes and provide public services.  The responsibilities of public affairs administration and the advocacy for the satisfaction of social and economic needs can be collectively shared through the cooperation between social groups and government.”

With the reforms of China’s government institutions and new rounds of innovation in public administration, the function of social organizations in public administration and social life becomes more apparent on a daily basis.  The government should make full use of social organizations in regard to the protection of ethnic peoples and western hydropower development.  The Central government should encourage relevant social organizations to participate in the activities of local hydropower development, participate in the ecological impact assessment, social impact assessment, and social monitoring of hydropower development.  Finally the Central government should utilize the contracting of services to support positive contributions and innovative practices that social organizations can make toward the social administration of ethnic areas.

This is the final part of a 5 part series on hydropower and the rights of ethnic minorities living in the upper Yangtze River valley.  Link here to part 1.  

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Filed under China, Economic development, Energy, Environment and sustainability, ethnic policy, GMS, Governance, Hydropower & Ethnic Resettlement in China's Yalong River Valley, Mekong River, SLIDER, Sustainability and Resource Management, water

On Xinjiang’s Freedom Struggle and Oppression

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

Uyghur woman facing a police cordon during protests in Xinjiang in 2009. Photo: REUTERS

I never intended to write a background article on the Xinjiang situation, simply because I feel I’m not nearly an expert on the field. But inevitably, when you’re researching a subject and trying to form an idea, article after article pops up, and important people all over the world voice opinion after opinion. And that’s how it’s suddenly noon and you’re still sitting in your underwear on the couch with your head stuck deep into the internet.

Even though I have become a lot wiser about the Xinjiang issue, I am not in a place to make socio-political analysis. However, this terror attack, this fight for freedom, and this cultural and economic oppression are not confined to Kunming, Xinjiang or China. They are not isolated events. And neither are reactions from the opposite side, which slowly but surely tighten the noose of public opinion around the neck of a culture, a religion and a people until it has been stripped of its humanity and hunting season is declared open to shoot down – verbally or literally – anyone connected with it. It’s easy to draw a few parallels to the intolerant climate in Europe in the 1930′s and the world doesn’t need another such occurrence. With this opinion piece I want to contribute, however little, to halt this mass demonisation.

People have been rightfully pointing out that many western media used quotes (such as CNN, now removed) around terrorism, as if terrorism is some sort of privilege of the West to suffer. Of course, the definition of terrorism is problematic, even the UN hasn’t properly outlined it yet. I would define terrorism as an act of violence with a political motive which, rather than targeting the political bodies it is in conflict with, targets a group of unrelated people in the hope that their fear will cause them to put political pressure on the targeted government. By this definition, the Kunming knife incident is very likely to be a terror attack (very likely, because the attack hasn’t been claimed by anyone, and because the authorities have not made the perpetrators’ identities public yet).

The Washington Post has published an article in which it looks for motives and where it blames Chinese oppression. As terrorism and freedom struggles are a global issue, this comes across as hypocritical. The author probably doesn’t mean it as such, but if you read between the lines, he’s saying that while terrorism in the West is to blame on freedom-hating thugs, terrorism in China is the result of government oppression. In my opinion, naturally only the latter is true and the West ought to learn a lesson from this. It should also apply its China logic to how it judges insurgent groups, and not only in the Muslim world.

That brings me to the next issue: can it simply be blamed on government oppression?

There has been a lot of outrage about the statement of Dilxat Rexit, the head of the World Uyghur Congresswhich strives for Uyghur self-determination. In an e-mailed statement to the New York Times, he said: ”We oppose any form of violence, and we also urge the Chinese government to ease systematic repression. If this incident was really the work of Uyghurs, then I can only say that it may be an extreme act by people who feel they cannot take it anymore.” Some (e.g. Kaiser Kuo on his Facebook page) argue this is basically a defence of the barbaric acts of last Saturday.

Yet what do you expect the head of the World Uyghur Congress to say? He’s the head of an organisation that promotes the cultural and political freedom of Uyghur people all around the world. Do you expect him not to give his take on the motives? And do you not think that he will find those motives rooted in the cultural and violent oppression by the Han in Xinjiang? Do you expect him to merely condemn the attacks without following up with a ‘but’ clause? Of course not, that’s why he’s the leader of the WUC. What he is saying is: “I could see that coming.”

I am for once agreeing with Mao Zedong, in that there is no hatred without a reason. I strongly recommend taking ten minutes to read Chinachange.org’s translation of an opinion piece written by Wang Lixiong (王力雄), Beijing-based political dissident and writer of “My West China, Your East Turkestan” (我的西域,你的东土). In it, the author argues that the problem is political at its core and therefore cannot be solved with economic solutions such as Beijing’s knee-jerk response of ‘developing’ China’s far west.

Mr. Wang writes that Uyghur people in Xinjiang are at a disadvantage on many levels. They often do not speak Mandarin well enough, have their own cultural and religious values and are therefore completely left out of the political process. At the same time, the government is siphoning away Xinjiang’s riches to the east. Social and economic segregation results in Uyghurs only getting the crumbles of a cake that the Han (who are now more or less equal in numbers in Xinjiang) have divided among themselves. The perpetual circle of violence and repression will lead to the ultimate exclusion of Uyghurs from society and, ultimately, to ‘Palestinisation‘ (a word the writer uses to mean the full mobilisation of a people against another). These pariahs will turn to their neighbours Afghanistan or Pakistan for their religious identity. This includes the risk that Uyghur people, who normally adhere a milder strain of Sunni Islam, will be converted to fundamentalists. The comparison to another Palestine or even Chechnya is indeed not far off.

It is easy for us to say something along the lines of “the Muslims are at it again.” It’s an old mantra repeated by ever more people all over the world. Yet I doubt that it’s right to blame religion. In fact, I’d even make the case that Islam doesn’t even play a real role in the knife attacks. It just happens to be the religious background of a people that want their land back, or at least want to be treated as equals in what once was their land. Possibly only the modus operandi changes: the IRA or the ETA would have planted a bomb.

Therefore, blaming religion is wrong and dangerous, because it would condemn a group far larger than the one engaging in violent activity. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the rise of radical Islam all over the globe is playing and will be playing an ever more important role in the lives of Xinjiang Uyghurs.

In light of the radicalisation of the entire Muslim world, if you don’t come to the conclusion that outsiders have created an environment in which they feel oppressed and which therefore allows terrorism to flourish, then your conclusion can only be that there is no chance of ever abating their extremism. Then you must conclude that Muslims are an evil group that needs to be eradicated or at least fought until they give up. I think history has taught us that that is not the way the cookie crumbles.

Editor’s Note: Sander originally published this post on his blog www.worldofnonging.com on 3/4/14.

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Filed under China, Current Events, Kunming Train Station Attack, SLIDER

Kaiser Kuo: On Radicalization and Chinese Policy

I get that some people trying to make sense of the attacks in Kunming want to take the opportunity to discuss how Chinese policy contributed to radicalization. And while I’ve noted elsewhere how it bothers me profoundly that many Anglophone commentators offer a merely perfunctory nod to the monstrousness of the knife attacks that claimed 29 innocent lives and sent 160 or more people to the hospital with stab and slash wounds before moving on to the “real” issue of Chinese repression of Uyghur rights, I do believe the desire on the part of some people to use the Kunming massacre to talk about underlying issues is well-intentioned and appropriate.

What troubles me, though, is that too often in that ensuing discussion, this attack as well as all the recent attacks—whether or not they cross our (still somewhat blurred) definitional line into terror—are seen simply as responses to Chinese repression. Is there repression and bad policy? Yes, absolutely. Has it contributed to radicalization? Sure.

But is it the only factor that has contributed to radicalization?

Of course not. The weird part is that while it should be stunningly obvious that the whole context, the whole relationship between Islam and the secular, industrialized world, the whole discourse on the way Islamic peoples are situated in the modern world—all this has dramatically changed, but this barely enters conversation. There are myriad alternative responses, loci of identity, causes, leaders, and movements on offer now that just weren’t there pre-September 11. The Internet barely existed in the oasis cities of the Tarim before 2001.

But people are for the most part writing and talking about the situation as though it’s happening in complete isolation, as though the rise of radical Islam in the rest of the world since the 1980s doesn’t figure in. It somehow doesn’t merit a paragraph or two alongside the context paragraphs that most of the Anglophone outlets see fit to include about repressive policies in restive Xinjiang. People can’t see beyond the simple narrative of Chinese repression.

Any serious effort to look at what’s happened and where things might go from here has to look at Chinese policy, and I’m sure that there’s plenty of blame to be laid there. But it should also factor in—and this is a far from comprehensive list—the rise of Wahhabism and other fundamentalist sects much further to the west; the Mujahedin in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal; Bin Laden and AQ; their bloody work; the whole idiotic enterprise of the GWoT; networks like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; the Afghan training camps (where let’s not forget there were many Uyghurs); the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring in more recent years. It has to look critically at the WUC and the pared-down, simplistic narrative it’s managed to sell, and on and on.

It’s depressing that instead people are quibbling over how well organized ETIM is, with some even denying that any organizations like it exist at all. Or they quibble over whether scare-quotes should be used with the word terrorism. (Yes, I’ve been quibbling over that, but I think it’s important: Like many people, I find that the word’s been badly abused, mostly at the hands of the Bush 43 Administration, and is deeply problematic, but dropping our use of it now, or deploying it only with the scare-quotes, is too loaded a statement and sends very wrong messages).

But to my main point: Yes, let’s talk about the underlying problems. But let’s not for a second believe that if only the Chinese would be nicer all the nasty, violent radicalism would just disappear.

This post was originally published on Kaiser Kuo’s Facebook page on 3/3/14. It received so much attention that we reached out to Kaiser for a repost on ExSE.  This is posted with the permission of the author. Comments and discussion welcome.  


Filed under Current Events, ethnic policy, Governance, Kunming Train Station Attack, Regional Relations, SLIDER, Uncategorized