Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China (2005.02)

Source: Global Times [13:36 July 11 2009]

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 IV. The Central Government's Support and Assistance for Ethnic Autonomous Areas 
 
The Constitution stipulates, "The state will do its utmost to promote the common prosperity of all the ethnic groups." The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy further clearly stipulates it as a legal obligation that higher state organs should support and assist ethnic autonomous areas in speeding up their development. To implement the provisions in the Constitution and the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, the Chinese government has adopted a series of measures as follows:

(1) Giving Prominence to Speeding up the Development of Ethnic Autonomous Areas

While formulating the national economic and social development plan, the central government gives full respect and consideration to the characteristics and needs of the ethnic autonomous areas, and gives strategic prominence to speeding up their development in accordance with the overall arrangement and general requirements of national development. To accelerate the development of China's western regions and ethnic autonomous areas, the Chinese government launched a grand strategy for the development of western China in 2000, which covers five autonomous regions, 27 autonomous prefectures and 83 of the 120 autonomous counties (banners). In addition, three other autonomous prefectures are allowed to enjoy the preferential policies the state has adopted for the western regions. During the five years since the launching of the strategy of development of the western part of the country, the construction of 60 important projects has begun, with a total investment of 850 billion yuan. They play an important role in promoting the economic and social development of the ethnic autonomous areas.

(2) Giving Priority to and Rationally Arranging Infrastructure Projects in Ethnic Autonomous Areas

When making arrangements for infrastructure construction and exploitation of resources in ethnic autonomous areas, the central government appropriately raises the proportion of investment and loans from policy banks, and grants the local areas reduction or exemption from supplementary funding according to their different conditions. Starting in the period of the First Five-Year Plan (1953-1957), the Chinese government has arranged a batch of key construction projects in ethnic autonomous areas, including the Baotou iron and steel base in Inner Mongolia, Qingtongxia Hydropower Station in Ningxia, petroleum exploration in Xinjiang and major highways linking Sichuan and Tibet, Qinghai and Tibet, Xinjiang and Tibet, and main railway lines linking Baotou and Lanzhou, Lanzhou and Xining, and Lanzhou and Urumqi. In the 1990s, large transport facilities were constructed, including the railway line between Zhongwei in Ningxia and Baoji in Shaanxi, and the Nanjiang Railway and Tacheng Airport in Xinjiang. Since 2000, the state has assisted ethnic autonomous areas to further convert their resource advantages into economic advantages by investing in the construction of a number of key projects, such as the West-East Natural Gas Transmission Project, West-East Power Transmission Project and Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

The state has made special arrangements for infrastructure construction and the development of basic industries in Tibet. From 1984 to 1994, a total of 43 projects were constructed, with investment from the central government and assistance from nine inland provinces and municipalities, totaling 480 million yuan. From 1994 to 2001, some 30 projects were constructed with a total direct investment of 3.9 billion yuan from the central government, and 32 projects were completed with investment, totaling 960 million yuan, from the more developed areas in the east. During the period of the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), the central government has invested 31.2 billion yuan in 117 projects in Tibet alone.

Since 1999, the Chinese government has launched large-scale transport infrastructure construction programs that were intended to benefit all ethnic autonomous regions, such as "Outlet Highways for Impoverished Counties," "Asphalt Roads to Every County in Western China" and "Inter-County and Rural Highways." Roads in rural areas and county-level roads totaling 225,000 km have been built or renovated, with a total investment of almost 100 billion yuan. This has markedly improved the formerly backward transport conditions in some areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.

(3) Strengthening Financial Support for Ethnic Autonomous Areas

With the development of the national economy and the growth in financial revenue, governments at all levels have gradually increased transfer payments from the exchequer to ethnic autonomous areas. Through ordinary transfer payments from the exchequer, special-purpose transfer payments from the exchequer, transfer payments from the exchequer according to preferential policies regarding ethnic minorities, and other ways, the central government has increased the financial input in ethnic autonomous areas to promote their economic development and social progress, and gradually reduce the gap between them and the more developed areas. The Chinese government has established some special-purpose funds, including the "Subsidy for Ethnic Minority Areas" established since 1955, and the "Stand-by Fund for Ethnic Minority Areas" in 1964. Moreover, it has also adopted some preferential policies, such as raising the proportion of reserve fund for ethnic minority areas, to help ethnic autonomous areas develop their economies and raise the people's living standards. In the 1980-1988 period, the central budget provided a set-quota subsidy system with a yearly increase of 10 percent to Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Tibet autonomous regions, as well as Yunnan, Guizhou and Qinghai provinces, which have large numbers of ethnic-minority inhabitants. In 1994, the central government introduced a structural reform of its financial management with the focus on a system of sharing tax revenue between the central and local authorities, but the policies of providing subsidies and special appropriations to ethnic minority areas have maintained. While adopting the method of transitional transfer payment in 1995, the central government tilted its policy toward the ethnic minority areas by adding special provisions concerning the policy of transfer payments to ethnic minority areas, covering Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Tibet autonomous regions, Yunnan, Guizhou and Qinghai provinces and some autonomous prefectures of ethnic minorities in other provinces.

(4) Attaching Importance to Ecological Construction and Environmental Protection in Ethnic Autonomous Areas

All the four key areas and four key projects included in the National Ecological Environment Construction Plan of the Chinese government are in ethnic minority areas. The "Natural Forest Protection Project" and the projects for converting farming land for forestry and pasture are mostly in ethnic minority areas. Nearly half of the 226 national nature reserves are located in those areas, including the Zoige Wetland Nature Reserve in Sichuan and the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve in Yunnan. In addition, the central government has launched the "Project for Comprehensive Improvement of the Environment of the Tarim Basin" in Xinjiang and the "Project of Protection of the Source of the Three Rivers" in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai, and attaches great importance to the ecological improvement of the karst areas in southern China.

(5) Adopting Special Measures to Help Ethnic Autonomous Areas Develop Education

The state helps ethnic autonomous areas universalize nine-year compulsory education and develop diverse forms of education. Ethnic autonomous areas are key target areas for the state's plans to basically universalize nine-year compulsory education and basically eliminate illiteracy among the young and middle-aged population. The "Compulsory Education Project for Impoverished Areas" launched by the state is also geared to the ethnic minority areas in western China. Furthermore, the state also establishes institutes of higher learning and opens classes and preparatory courses for ethnic minority students. Institutes of higher learning and polytechnic schools have lowered admission standards for ethnic minority students, and give special preference to applicants from ethnic minorities with a very small population. So far, there are 13 institutes of higher learning for ethnic minorities in China. In more developed areas there are middle schools for ethnic minorities and ethnic minority classes in ordinary middle schools enrolling ethnic minority students. To enhance training for high-level backbone personnel from ethnic minorities, the Chinese government has decided, on an experimental basis, to enroll 2,500 students for Master's and PhD programs from ethnic minority areas in 2005, and the goal of 2007 is to enroll 5,000 people, thus making the total number of such students reach 15,000.

(6) Strengthening Assistance to Impoverished Ethnic Minority Areas

Since the mid-1980s, when the Chinese government launched its large-scale poverty-alleviation drive in an organized and programmed way, ethnic minorities and areas they live have always been key targets of governmental aid. Among the 331 impoverished counties designated as key recipients of state aid in 1986, 141 are in ethnic autonomous areas, accounting for 42.6 percent of the total. In 1994, the state began implementing a Seven-Year Program for Delivering 80 Million People out of Poverty, and among the 592 impoverished counties designated as key recipients of state aid 257 are in ethnic autonomous areas, accounting for 43.4 percent of the total. The Outline Program for Poverty Alleviation and Development in the Rural Areas of China, which began being implemented in 2001, once again recognized ethnic minority areas as key targets for assistance. In the 592 counties newly designated for state poverty alleviation and development, 267 are located in ethnic autonomous areas (excluding Tibet), accounting for 45.1 percent of the total. Tibet as a whole has been included as a target for key poverty alleviation and development from the state.

In 1990, the state established the Food and Clothing Fund for Impoverished Ethnic Minority Areas, aiming primarily at impoverished ethnic minority counties. In 1992, the state established the Fund for Ethnic Minorities Development, which is mainly used to deal with special difficulties encountered in the development of ethnic autonomous areas, and in the production and lives of ethnic minorities. Since 2000, the state has pursued a drive known as "More Prosperous Frontiers and Better-off People Action," adopting special measures to assist the 22 ethnic minority groups each with a population of less than 100,000, and focusing on infrastructure construction and the problem of food and clothing for impoverished people in frontier regions and ethnic minority areas with small populations.

(7) Increasing Input into Social Services in Ethnic Autonomous Areas

The state has increased input into health services in ethnic autonomous areas, to raise the level of medical care for the people of those areas. In 2003, the central government appropriated special funds totaling 1.37 billion yuan for health services in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Tibet autonomous regions, which covered such aspects as public health, basic rural health facilities, specialized hospitals, rural cooperative medical services and control of serious diseases.
In 1998, the Chinese government launched a project to give every village access to radio and TV broadcasts, providing special-purpose subsidies to key counties for national poverty-alleviation and development in the central and western regions, which greatly promoted the development of radio, film and TV services in ethnic minority areas. By the end of 2003, with subsidies totaling 450 million yuan, over 70 million villagers in 117,345 administrative villages had gained access to radio and TV broadcasts. The project covered 54,365 administrative villages in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Tibet autonomous regions, as well as Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, where large numbers of ethnic minority people live. In 2004, the state launched another drive to make villages with more than 50 households where electricity was available to have access to radio and TV. It is estimated that 90,000 more villages will have access to radio and TV in the next two years, among which 59,000 are in ethnic minority areas.

(8) Assisting Ethnic Autonomous Areas to Open Wider to the Outside World

The state grants more decision-making power to production enterprises in ethnic autonomous areas in managing foreign trade, encourages them to export local products and implement preferential border trade policies. It encourages and supports the ethnic autonomous areas to give full play to their geographical and cultural advantages in expanding their opening to and cooperation with neighboring countries. In 1992, the Chinese government launched its frontier opening-up strategy, designating 13 open cities and 241 first-grade open ports, and establishing 14 border economic and technological cooperation zones, most of which are in ethnic autonomous areas.

(9) Pairing off More Developed Areas and Ethnic Autonomous Areas for Aid

The Chinese government encourages better-off areas and ethnic groups to help those that are not well-off yet, and attain common prosperity this way. Since the end of the 1970s, the Chinese government has organized the more developed areas along the eastern coast to provide corresponding aid to western areas and help ethnic minority areas develop their economies and public services. In 1996, corresponding assistance was made more specific: Beijing is to assist Inner Mongolia; Shandong, Xinjiang; Fujian, Ningxia; and Guangdong, Guangxi. As regards Tibet, it receives assistance from all the other areas of the country. From 1994 to 2001, 15 assistance-providing provinces, and ministries and commissions under the State Council gave assistance gratis for the construction of 716 projects, with the input of funds totaling 3.16 billion yuan (excluding investment from the central government. Same below). During the Tenth Five-Year Plan period, Tibet received assistance and grants totaling 1.062 billion yuan from all over the country for the construction of 71 projects.

(10) Giving Care to Special Needs of Ethnic Minorities in Production and Living

Respecting the customs of ethnic minorities, and to meet their needs for special necessities in production and living, the state has adopted a special policy for their trade and production of necessities. In 1963, the state introduced preferential policies for ethnic minority enterprises in profit retention, self-owned funds and price subsidies. In June 1997, the state promulgated a new preferential policy for ethnic minorities' trade and production of necessities for them, which provided that, during the period of the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000), the People's Bank of China would set aside 100 million yuan every year for loans with discounted interest for the construction of trade networks for ethnic minorities and technological renovation of enterprises designated to turn out necessities for ethnic minorities. It also stipulated that state-owned trade businesses and grass-root supply and marketing cooperatives below the county level (not including counties) would be exempt from value added tax in ethnic minority areas. By the end of 2003, there were 1,378 designated manufacturers of special necessities for ethnic minorities in China, which enjoyed preferential policies concerning working capital loan rates, technological renovation loans with discounted interest, and reduction of and exemption from taxes. Considering the importance of special necessities such as tea in the everyday life of some ethnic minorities, the state established a brick-tea reserve system during the period of the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1991-1995), to guarantee the stable supply of such tea. In 2002, the Measures for Administration of National Brick-Tea Reserve was formulated, providing for the management of the reserve of brick-tea raw materials and products, and credit support to units that store the relevant materials. It also provided that the central exchequer should pay the interest on the loans used for the reserve of brick-tea materials.

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