Xi warns missteps on ethnic issues would ‘destabilize’ China

Chinese President Xi Jinping has expressed zero tolerance for anything that could undermine ethnic harmony in the world’s second-largest economy, a sign he is sticking to assimilation policies that have led to unrest and allegations of human rights violations.

“Only when all ethnic groups live in unity and harmony can there be a prosperous country, a stable society and a happy people,” the 68-year-old leader told a delegation from Inner Mongolia, which in the past has seen protests against policies. for the languages ​​used at school.

“Without ethnic unity and harmony, the country would decline, the society would be destabilized and the people would suffer,” Xi said on Saturday, according to a summary of the National People’s Congress event provided by the official Xinhua news agency.

The country’s legislature and top political advisory body are holding their annual meetings this week in Beijing.

China is rolling out a series of policies, including curtailing religious practices and discouraging ethnic dress, in a bid to absorb its diverse minority groups into a single national identity. The campaign has drawn the most attention in the far western region of Xinjiang, where foreign governments and human rights groups say Beijing uses forced labor and genocide to wipe out minorities, including Muslim Uyghurs.

Chinese officials are calling the accusations the “lie of the century”, saying they are providing job training and building infrastructure that will lift the region out of poverty. Last month, the Asian nation used the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics to send a message of defiance against Western accusations by asking members of the 56 government-recognized ethnicities, including the Han Chinese, to pass the nation’s flag at an exhibition. of harmony.

Yet there are sometimes signs that minorities are frustrated with assimilation policies. In 2020, a decision to replace Mongolian with Chinese in schools sparked student protests and boycotts, and videos posted to YouTube showed students chanting “Let us Mongolians strive to defend our Mongolian culture”. Such clips weren’t available in China, where signs of ethnic unrest are among the many topics that can go against censors.

Xi, who usually joins a panel discussion with Inner Mongolia delegates on the first day of the annual legislative session, urged officials to use a range of tools to build what the government calls “zhonghua minzu” or “Chinese nation”.

“To foster a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation, China should not only provide work that can be seen and felt, but also make a lot of ‘low-key and subtle’ efforts,” said Xi, who led the China over the past decade.

“Any activity harmful to the promotion of such sentiment must be resolutely prohibited,” he added.

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