Newly announced plans by China’s central government for the “resettlement” of the last remaining nomads over the next five years have sparked protests in Inner Mongolia, with traditional Mongol herders accusing authorities of the illegal expropriation of grazing lands for development projects. At least four protests by Mongol herders have been reported over the last month. The most recent protest took place on July 2 in Imin Sum (Yimin Sumu in Chinese; “Sum” is equivalent to township), Eweenkh Banner (Ewen Keqi in Chinese; “banner” is equivalent to county), Hailar district. According to an appeal letter to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) written by the Imin Sum protesters, local herders have lost large tracts of their grazing lands to government projects including highway and rail line construction, mining and power plants. The process began in 1984 when Chinese state-run company Hua Neng Coal Electricity developed up a coal mine on local grazing lands.
Hundreds of herders also marched June 19 in Haliut, seat of Urad Middle Banner (Wulate Zhongqi), where a long banner read “Corrupt officials are occupying herders’ grazing land; Herders are demanding justice.” Riot police were immediately deployed and the streets and parks were ordered cleared and shut. Two weeks before that, there were clashes in Imin Sum as thugs hired by land-grabbers attacked herders who were tending their livestock on a last remaining piece of remaining grazing land. Many herders were reportedly beaten up and wounded, with two women hospitalized. One still remains unconscious.
On May 30, Premier Wen Jiabao announced a “12th Five-Year Plan for the Project on Resettling Nomadic People within China,” which calls for settling the remaining nomad population of 1.157 million people by 2015. Authorities say 90% of China’s 400 million hectares (988 million acres) of grassland now show some degree of environmental degradation, with over-grazing by nomads seen as a key contributing factor. SMHRIC says environmental concerns are being used a pretext for land-grabbing, and that the policy violate China’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Ethnic Mongols make up not quite 20% of the 23 million people of Inner Mongolia, which the SMHRIC calls Southern Mongolia. The majority of the residents are now Han Chinese. The 12th Five-Year plan would also affect remaining nomadic populations in Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. (SMRIC, July 8; Intercontinental Cry, June 26; SMHRIC, June 20; Radio Free Asia, June 5 via Mines and Communities)