China says foreigners fuel unrest in Inner Mongolia

By BRIAN SPEGELE

HOHHOT, China—China accused unspecified "foreign forces" of trying to exploit protests by ethnic Mongolian students in Inner Mongolia, even as the government pledged to address some of the underlying issues—the mining industry's rapid expansion and its impact on the environment.

Local authorities appear to have quelled the protests, which erupted last week after a Mongolian herder was killed by a coal truck driven by a member of China's dominant Han ethnic group as a group of herders sought to block a convoy from crossing pastureland.

There were no reports of further protests in the region Tuesday as hundreds of riot police continued to block traffic into the central square of Hohhot, the regional capital where some activists had called for further demonstrations.

China's government, which says the coal-truck driver has been arrested, is thought to be anxious to ensure that the unrest doesn't escalate in the same way that anti-Chinese protests did in Tibet in 2008, and in northwestern Xinjiang the following year, analysts said.

Inner Mongolia's population of 24 million is now about 80% Han following six decades of migration, which many Mongolians say has swamped their traditional nomadic culture and destroyed the once-pristine environment of the grasslands.

The protests in Inner Mongolia came amid a nationwide crackdown on lawyers, political bloggers and other dissidents, including the artist Ai Weiwei, that was triggered by anonymous online calls for a "Jasmine revolution" in China in mid-February.

Ensuring social stability is especially important for the party in the run-up to the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on Saturday, the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party's founding on July 1, and a once-a-decade leadership change next year.

China—which rarely admits to any tension among its ethnic groups—blamed the unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang on unspecified "hostile" foreign forces, and made similar allegations about the protests in Inner Mongolia.

"As to those foreign parties that are using the incident to stir up trouble, they have ulterior motives," said Jiang Yu, spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry. She added that this "cannot succeed."

Asked what she meant by "ulterior motives", she said: "You should ask those foreign parties that are stirring up trouble."

However, she said local authorities in Inner Mongolia would respond positively to the unrest, and would try to find a balance between promoting economic growth and protecting the environment.

The Global Times, an English-language tabloid newspaper with links to the ruling Communist Party, also said in a commentary that the government should respond to the grievances of ethnic Mongolians, although it stressed that the protests were economic rather than political.

"Some of their requests are reasonable, and should be responded to by the local government," the newspaper said, adding that protesters were anxious about the changes caused by the mining industry.

It said it was "improper" to link the unrest in Inner Mongolia and the problems in Tibet and Xinjiang over the past three years.

"Social conflicts are on the rise in China and ethnic minority areas are no exception. But the incidents there should not be exaggerated or over-interpreted," it said.

Other official newspapers carried front page reports emphasizing government support for herders and Mongolian culture. The People's Daily said 13 billion yuan ($2 billion) was paid to herders each year to compensate them for not raising livestock.
—Aaron Back in Beijing contributed to this article.

Source:Wall Street Journal





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