China's fragmenting frontiers?

- CCAS and KAS India

The Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS) together with the India Office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organized a diginar on "China's fragmenting frontiers?" on 26th February 2021.

Key Takeaways:

- China and many of its frontier provinces have unsettled relationships, many of which have complex, usually economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse backgrounds, and are therefore powerless in the face of the centre. Historically these frontier regions have been viewed as the edges of civilization where, ever since President Xi Jinping put forward the concept of the “China Dream”, there has been restiveness. This has particularly been the case in the provinces of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

- China is an “artificial country” build on the occupation of other countries and what we see today is a country that has become a bully from being a “timid, coward” country scared of occupation by the Mongolians, Tibet and Tajiks and so on before 1912, and the Great Wall of China is a living proof of this hypothesis. 

- A comparative analysis of China’s old and new neighbours, clearly defines that it was only after the occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang that China had 12 new neighbours including Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Korea, Japan after 1950. 

- Due to China’s “demographic colonialism”, more than 64% of present-day China including Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia are Han, and in terms of resources, two-third are in the hands of Han Chinese. Out of the 56 nationalities, the Han consists of more than 82% of the population. 

- Until China’s occupation of Tibet, India and Tibet shared the most peaceful of borders in the world. Tibet was an independent country, with its own flag, currency and postal system before China’s occupation. In the seven decades of Chinese occupation of Tibet, China has built military and civil infrastructure to suit its strategic interests, increased political and religious repression in Tibet, crushed Tibetan resistance movements, advanced population transfer to Tibet and, in the recent past, built a new kind of surveillance to create stability and compliance. 

- The increasing intensification of surveillance in Tibet and increasing restrictions on linguistic and religious freedoms, especially in the last few years, has grown at an unprecedented level. 

- Based on the findings from numerous Human Rights groups, such as the Human Rights Watch, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), and Freedom House, the increasing restrictions in Tibet is palpable. From monitoring the activities of the Tibetan people to the stationing of 21,000 communist officials across Tibet to collect data, the Chinese government has deployed an increasingly sophisticated surveillance strategy. 

- The CCP’s security budget for the Tibet Autonomous Region has increased since 2008, and currently it has the highest per-capita domestic spending on security of all the provinces and regions. According to James Leibold and Adrian Zenz, the per capita domestic spending in 2016 in Sichuan’s Tibetan Region was nearly three times higher than that of Sichuan province as a whole. 

- Its geostrategic concerns after the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s increased as did China’s insecurity that the Uyghurs might also demand a separate state and China rallied regional support with the help of Russia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation against the Uyghurs.

- The 9/11 incident provided China with a golden opportunity to launch a campaign against extremism – to projected itself as a victim of terrorism and used the Uyghurs as a tool to push its public diplomacy and put pressure on client states like Pakistan to not to speak in support of the Uyghur demands. 

- The situation in Xinjiang under Xi Jinping’s governance has shifted from bad to worse. Xi’s policies reflect that ethnic-minority policies are not inclusive, his vision of being resilient is to target the ethnic identity of a particular community and that is what the Uyghurs are facing. Xi cannot accept cultural dissimilarity, his vision hints towards uniculturalism and the policy of assertive assimilation is intended to facilitate achieving it. 

- The appointment of Chen Quanguo as the Party Secretary of Xinjiang since 2016, has converted the region into a police state with the imposition of ‘grid management’, suggesting that the situation the Uyghurs are facing is not only discriminatory but the ‘strike-hard’ policy has intensified resulting in raising human rights abuses to extreme levels.

- Expert Adrian Zenz disclosed to the world in 2017 that China has created detention centres in its northwestern region where more than one-million Uyghurs and other Turkic minority groups are detained. People who have shown no sign other than following normal Uyghur culture or religious practices face incommunicado detention and draconian measures are taken to ‘reconstruct’ their minds. The number of days of detainment and level of ‘re-education’ depends on how dangerous or extreme the authorities consider an individual.

- According to current estimates, China has the largest prison camp post-WWII, which it calls a re-education camp. The Chinese state has rounded up social elites, public intellectuals, religious leaders, university professors, influential imams, and so on and put them in these camps where they are subjected to physical and mental torture, indoctrination, and women suffer the worst form of sexual violence. 

- The U.S has been the strongest among all the liberal democracies to raise a voice against China on the treatment of Uyghurs. While many democratic countries spoke out but countries like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, have turned a blind eye to the mistreatment of Uighurs.

- In August 2020, the Inner Mongolian government mandated that primary and secondary schools must use Mandarin (Putonghua) and not Mongolian, as the language of instruction. The authorities implemented a unified Chinese language teaching plan. Hou Yuan, then Director of the Education Department, claimed that “textbooks reflect the will of the Communist Party and the State” and the use of unified textbooks was a “major decision” made by the CCP Central Committee. 

- The policy triggered widespread resistance among Mongolians and more than 300,000 students staged protests and demonstrations in the Nei (Inner) Mongol capital of Hohhot in which government employees also joined. People worried that the unique Mongolian language and culture will be extinguished as a result of these policies.

- Notwithstanding popular discontent, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stepped up other efforts to accelerate the assimilation of the Mongol people, possibly because they number only 5 million and are in a minority in the Autonomous Region. The Education Department of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in a notice to publishing houses dated January 8, 2021, stated that in compliance with the instructions of the China National Textbook Committee, it had conducted an “Ideological Special Investigation” and an audit of textbooks such as ‘Inner Mongolian History and Culture’, ‘Mongolian History’, ‘Hulunbuir History and Culture’, ‘Hetao History and Culture’, and ‘Korqin History and Culture (Trial)’. The notice declared that the textbooks did not adequately highlight “the awareness of common roots”, but instead emphasised individual “ethnic identity” and “ethnic awareness.” 

- The Department of Education of Inner Mongolia had consequently decided to ban the use of the textbooks of ‘Inner Mongolia History and Culture’, ‘Mongolian History’, and ‘Hetao History and Culture’ from the Spring of 2021. It stated that the textbooks of ‘Hulunbeier History and Culture’ and ‘Korqin History and Culture (Trial)’ will not be used from the Fall semester of 2021.

- To fully implement Sinicization, China does not shy away from rooting out ethnic language and culture across these autonomous regions. In Tibet, campaigns are in place for cracking down on opposition movements, with the Public Security Bureau reaching counties bordering India to arrest so-called “separatist” elements. Since last August there has been noticeably increased propaganda by the Tibet Autonomous Region to mitigate the Dalai Lama’s influence among Tibetans. 

- Inner Mongolia has not been spared from central China’s encroachment either. The government’s decision to bury the Mongolian language and enforce Mandarin in schools has led to hundreds of students protesting, even causing the death of one student. All this only incited Southern Mongolians living abroad to gather in front of Chinese embassies and consulates, be it in the US, in European countries, Japan, and elsewhere.

- The reality is that these actions of China are not confined solely to inside China, but rather have implications and consequences for China’s relationship with the international community. Though 2020 was also the year that the world governments pushed back on China's policies of repression, with less fear of retaliation, the Chinese response was even stronger and the Chinese government continues to control the propaganda and narrative building.


Peter Rimmele