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Inter-Ethnic Strife Prompts Review of Migration Policies

China News Digest, 19 January 2002

[CND, 01/19/02] Beijing must reexamine its policies concerning control of ethnic minorities, as increased migration has resulted in a rise in ethnic strife, a senior official was quoted as saying in an article published in the South China Morning Post on Friday.

The minister leading the State Ethnic Minorities Commission, LI Dezhu, noted that a third of the mainland's non-Han minority population - about 30 million people - now lives in close proximity to members of other ethnic groups, mainly Han Chinese, because of minority migration to urban areas over the past two decades.

As the number of migrants grew over time, this strained relations between different ethnic groups and disrupted social harmony, Mr Li was quoted by the quasi-official China News Service as saying.

The minister argued that the central government focus its attention on ethnically mixed areas and increase its controls in these areas. Mr Li suggested that the government should also study patterns behind past unexpected events - an indirect reference to racial conflicts - and come up with plans for defusing crises in the future.

In townships where there is a high concentration of residents (30 percent or more) with an ethnic minority background, officials should investigate ways to shore up local administration and control the flow of ethnic migrants into the area.

The minister revealed that central authorities were also evaluating how to amend two regulations concerning the functions of local government in townships and cities with a high concentration of ethnic minority residents or migrants. The minister argued that the regulations were outdated, since they had been drafted in the early 1990s.

Improving the living standards of ethnic minority people was also essential if tensions between different ethnic groups were to be eased, Mr Li said.

Among about 1,200 minority townships, more than half are classified as poor. Therefore we should come up with [ways of alleviating] the poverty of minority townships, Mr Li said.

In the future the central government also intends to devote extra attention to the 22 small minority groups with an ethnic population below 100,000, and will implement projects to improve their living standards, he said.

Other projects such as raising the income of those living in border areas and promoting ethnic cuisines in regions where Muslims and other minorities lived together were also being implemented.

But Minister Li noted his concern over minorities' ability to deal with the issues posed by China's accession to the World Trade Organisation would pose, and wondered whether they would reap any benefits from the massive Go West development plan, a Beijing-led investment plan intended to reduce income disparities between coastal and inland areas that was initiated in 2000. (Laurel Mittenthal)