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Xi’s China in full swing to assimilate ethnic minorities

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(TibetanReview.net, Dec12’22) – The representation of ethnic minority officials on the party’s Central Committee in the recently concluded national congress of the Communist Party of China has hit a 10-year low while its ethnic minority works are now led by Han cadres in a departure from past policy, reported the scmp.com Dec 11. The move is seen as reflecting President Xi Jinping’s agenda to homogenise the Chinese nation through efforts to assimilate the diverse ethnic groups into one common Chinese identity.

In addition, the head of the party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), which plays a central role in its ethnic minority policies, is now a member of the 24-strong Politburo. The appointment of 66-year-old Shi Taifeng gives the department its highest rank in the party system for decades, the report noted. Before that, Shi was president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and widely seen as an official on the way out due to his age, the report noted.

“Under Xi’s leadership, the party isn’t trying to eliminate ethnic minorities and reward Han people,” Aaron Glasserman, a researcher with Princeton University’s Centre on Contemporary China, has said.

Rather, “it’s trying to eliminate distinctions between them and foster what it believes will be a politically useful and unified national identity.

“It is essentially encouraging [ethnic minorities] to speak Mandarin, embrace a shared Chinese national identity, and above all, support Xi and his regime.”

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This is a departure from China’s past ethnic policies which had been known for respecting ethnic customs, languages and identities. But the “rapid rewriting of the rules may alienate people who have long supported the regime,” Glasserman has said.

China has 55 non-Han ethnic minorities whose 125 million members make up nearly 9% of the country’s population – and 7 million of them are party members, the report noted.

And the number of ethnic minority cadres among the 205 full members of the new Central Committee, whose line-up was revealed at the congress, fell to nine – or 4.39% – compared to 17 out of 204 – or 8.33% – on the previous committee, the report added. Yan Jinhai, 60, who governs the Tibet autonomous region, is the only ethnic Tibetan in the committee.

Susan McCarthy, a professor of political science at Providence College in the United States, sees this as a demonstration of Xi’s preference for breaking intraparty norms.

“Maintaining a certain proportion of minorities is one more unwritten norm that Xi does not feel compelled to observe,” she has said.

Also, in the past two years, two Han cadres had been appointed to head the National Ethnic Affairs Commission, a role traditionally held by minority cadres. Chen Xiaojiang replaced Mongolian cadre Bagtaur in 2020 as the commission’s party secretary. And Chen was replaced by another Han cadre, Pan Yue, in June this year, the report noted.

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Shan Wei, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute, has said the political significance of the UFWD had been elevated to an “unprecedentedly high” position since the party congress.

“Shi’s appointment, from a half-retired position, shows the political significance of the UFWD reaching an unprecedented high. … This is the first time in decades [for the country] to see a Politburo member and a secretary of the central secretariat head the UFWD.

“This indicates Xi will introduce tougher adjustments to eliminate ethnic distinctions in the coming years as well as a reduction of preferential policies,” Shan has said.

Shi, a close ally of Xi, is best known for doubling down on the Chinese language policy in Inner Mongolia when he was the region’s party secretary, a stance that sparked discontent and angry protests in 2020.

He did not back down but criticised local officials’ handling of the policy while reiterating the importance of Mandarin in forging a “strong sense of community for the Chinese nation” in Inner Mongolia, the report said.

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The report cited the National Ethnic Affairs Commission as saying Beijing was funding new research centres and school curricula to “forge a common sense of Chinese national identity.”

“We may see continued erosion of preferential policies, especially those that encourage ethnocultural identities and differences,” McCarthy has said. “[Certain] preferential policies may persist if they are believed to foster cultural assimilation.”

Xi wants to strengthen national unity and foster a sense of the Chinese nation, Hongyi Lai, an associate professor at Nottingham University’s School of Politics and International Relations, has said.

“The current policy will encourage minorities to regard themselves less of an ethnic group but more of a member of the new Chinese nation and a Chinese citizen,” he has said.

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