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Diminishing role for already discriminated ethnic minorities in China under Xi Jinping

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(TibetanReview.net, Oct19’22) – As President Xi Jinping is set to assume an unprecedented third five-year term in office, the representation of ethnic minority officials at the top has already decreased in recent years amid Beijing’s push to fuse ethnic identities into one Chinese national identity, noted the scmp.com Oct 19.

An examination of the résumés of dozens of minority cadres at the top of the leadership shows that, much like their Han counterparts, key elements needed for promotion boil down to unquestionable loyalty and the ability to deliver economic growth targets while maintaining stability. Those with expertise in science and technology are also likely to be favoured.

“This shows the representation of ethnic minority cadres among high-level officials is not as high a priority as in previous years,” Lai Hongyi, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham’s school of politics and international relations, has said.

It is true that the party has a long tradition of recruiting and training ethnic minority political elites that dates back to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as part of its ethnic inclusion measures.

But while ethnic minority officials are appointed to top government jobs in autonomous regions, prefectures and counties, the more powerful party chief jobs at the regional level are usually handed to their Han counterparts. No ethnic minority cadres have ever served on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, the report noted.

And the only ethnic minority members who served in the full Politburo have been the Zhuang general Wei Guoqing, from 1973 to 1985, and the Mongolian general Ulanhu, from 1977 to 1985.

The report noted that between 1993 and 2018, the party observed an informal norm of having at least one ethnic minority cadre serving as a vice-premier or state councillor.

And dating back to 1954, the officials responsible for implementing regional autonomy and ethnic affairs had always been members of ethnic minority groups. However, that norm was shattered two years ago when Chen Xiaojiang, a Han cadre, replaced Bagatur, a member of the Mongolian ethnic minority, as party secretary of the National Ethnic Affairs Commission.

In June, Chen was replaced by Pan Yue, another Han cadre with no previous experience in handling ethnic affairs. Besides, only one of the commission’s three deputy chiefs, 58-year-old Tibetan Bianba Zhaxi – a law graduate from Renmin University and a former deputy chief of the Tibet autonomous region – is non-Han, the report noted.

“The changes send a message to minority cadres – and their superiors – that ethnic background is less of an asset than it was in the past, even as window-dressing and even something to be downplayed,” Susan McCarthy, a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted as saying.

“[Xi’s] vision of China and Chinese culture is unabashedly Han-centric, and most importantly, Xi-centric.”

The report cited experts as saying ethnic minority representation in China’s senior leadership will continue to weaken as promotions to national-level jobs become rarer amid an ethnic integration push by Beijing.

Speaking about the possibility of Shen Yiqin, a 63-year-old member of the Bai ethnic minority who is Guizhou province’s party secretary, taking Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan’s place as the only female representative on the 25-member Politburo, Shan Wei, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute, has said that this, if realized, would be more to do with her gender than her ethnicity.

While the Zhuang, to which Shen Yiqin belongs, are the largest ethnic minority group in the PRC, Shan has said only Uyghurs, Tibetans, Huis, Mongolians and Kazakhs were seen as politically significant and until a representative from one of those five groups was appointed to a top national position, it could not be said that China was relaxing its ethnic policies.

And so, for minority cadres, loyalty remains the No 1 criteria for advancement, with the party repeatedly warning against “two-faced” cadres. Members of minority groups appointed to top positions by the party’s organisation department go through a great deal of scrutiny to make sure they are loyal to the party and will obediently carry out the orders of its national leadership, the report noted.

“For someone highly credentialed and connected, being a minority can assist one’s advance up the ladder of power, but the glass ceiling remains as top spots will likely always go to Han men,” McCarthy has said.

Besides, political scientist Victor Shih from the University of California, San Diego, has said minority cadres either serve as chairmen of their autonomous regions or tend to get stuck at the vice-provincial or vice-ministerial level.

“If the party is serious about its assimilation policy, then minority cadres should be allowed to serve as full ministers and work outside their home provinces, much like Han cadres are allowed to do,” he has said.

And so, when Xi Jinping unveil a new leadership line-up after being formally endorsed for a third five-year term at the ongoing party congress, don’t expect to see ethnic minorities being give much importance.


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