Unrest among ethnic Mongolians in northern China is deepening, a week after the accidental killing of two Mongolians in separate incidents have sparked unprecedented protests.
Inner Mongolia, a semi-autonomous province in China that borders the nation of Mongolia, is witnessing a clash between the ancient pastoral lifestyle of Mongols and the Han Chinese who have moved into the area in great numbers to exploit and develop the local energy and coal reserves.
Mongolians are now a distinct minority on the province, vastly outnumbered by Han Chinese (20 percent vs. 80 percent of the local population), and fear that their way of life and culture will soon vanish.
The Chinese authorities are at least acknowledging the problem.
Indeed, according to state-run Chinese media, the Communist Party secretary of Inner Mongolia, Hu Chunhua, met with Mongolian students and teachers on Friday and vowed that the people who killed the two Mongolians will have justice, Two Han Chinese suspects have already been arrested.
Still, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing is alleging that “foreigners” are instigating the conflicts in Inner Mongolia (quite similar to claims made by the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad to explain the anti-regime protests in that country).
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told a news conference: As for the reasonable claims by the people [in Inner Mongolia], the local authorities will respond positively to them. As for those overseas trying to play up this incident for ulterior motives, we feel that it would be impossible for them to succeed.”
Meanwhile, Chinese officials have clamped down on Inner Mongolia and tightened security by declaring martial law in some areas. Riot police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the larger cities of the province.
Enghebatu Togochog, president of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, told the New York Times: The root cause of the problem is not money. The problem is the conflict between the Mongolian people's efforts to maintain their distinct culture and way of life and the Chinese authorities' attempts to exploit the natural resources of the region.