IPCS Discussion: China and its Internal Periphery

08 Mar, 2013    ·   3835

Rana Divyank Chaudhary reports on the seminar organised in collaboration with Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University

Rana Divyank Chaudhary
Rana Divyank Chaudhary
Research Intern

Session I

Perspectives on Xinjiang
Dr Debashish Chaudhuri, Associate Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi
Any serious discussion on the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China will centre on the issue of Uighur separatism, and the Chinese government’s policy on minority nationalism. A serious problem that the Chinese government is facing is that it has lost the capacity for dialogue with the people living on its political, economic, and geographic periphery. This gap in communication has, for long, impeded the process of conflict resolution in Xinjiang.

There has always been a great emphasis on the inseparability of ethnic minorities from the Han majority, which in turn represents the socio-cultural essence of China. Persistent hammering of this point by state propaganda has added fuel to ethno-nationalist sentiments, and provided critical mass for the Uighur separatist movement.

China’s stated aim is to eliminate separatist activities – perceived or real, and expressed on virtual platforms such as the Internet. Maintaining stability remains the top priority, and in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Uighurs have been brought under strict state surveillance and control. The ‘focused rectification of regional social order’ has taken precedence in the face of the low level of economic development, and large scale poverty one finds as one moves further away from China’s political core. This has caused further peripherisation of Xinjiang.

Perspectives on Tibet
Dr Abanti Bhattacharya, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, New Delhi
The Tibet Autonomous Region figures prominently in China’s periphery strategy. China treats it as a strategic issue, and not as a minority-identity issue. Located on China’s historically vulnerable western frontier, Tibet now sits astride a disputed international boundary shared with India, and is the focus of the Tibetan nationalist movement. For China, this means a minority-inhabited area occupying one-fourth of its landmass and frequently disrupted by political uprisings.

In the post-1949 period, China militarily occupied the region in 1950, and legally incorporated the region by forcing the Tibetans to sign the Seventeen-Point Agreement in 1951. It has administratively integrated the region by creating the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965.

China’s minority policy, underscored in the ethnic classification project, and regional autonomy system, is geared towards periphery consolidation. Its Tibet policy in the post-1978 reform period demonstrates how China has continued to address the issue from a security perspective, having implemented the Western Development Strategy internally and re-crafted its Tibet policy externally.

The periphery strategy has dual implications, first being the security of the internal periphery, and the second being the security of the external periphery. The state’s solutions to the Tibetan problem have invariably been part of a security-centric response. Quite inevitably then, the Tibet issue, which is essentially the quest for Tibetan identity, will continue to pose a formidable challenge to China’s security, and remain unresolved for a long time to come.

Perspectives on Inner Mongolia
Hu Xiaowen, Ph.D. candidate, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and research assistant in Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region spans across the northeast, north, and northwest of China. It accounts for 12.3% of the total area of the country, ranking third amongst all the provinces and autonomous regions. Inner Mongolia shares its border and cultural history with Mongolia, links northeast Asia and central Asia, and is of key strategic significance for China.

During the last few decades, Inner Mongolia has brought several improvements to its economy and society. There has been a sustained and rapid economic growth over the past 30 years. The overall quality and level of the tertiary industry too, has significantly increased. Urbanisation, science, education, and other social undertakings have been flourishing.

At the same time, the province faces a number of grave challenges. There is uncoordinated economic development among the cities of Inner Mongolia. The development of agriculture and animal husbandry accounts for a large part of Inner Mongolia’s economy, but the incomes of the farmers and herdsmen show no corresponding increase.

There is a potential security threat from the trans-boundary national and Pan-Mongolian doctrine. Although the province has remained stable and peaceful in spite of some uncertainties, the central government’s endeavours to preserve and project Inner Mongolia as an example of national harmony and integration nonetheless remains an ongoing task.

Session II

Perspectives on Yunnan

Dr Geeta Kochhar, Assistant Professor, Centre for Chinese & South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Yunnan lies on China’s southwest periphery, and borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. It is also culturally and historically linked with Thailand, Cambodia, and India. In Chinese history, Yunnan has been one of the provinces that were governed on the basis of an inter-ethnic ideology that sought to protect the civilisational core by controlling the periphery, and managing the various nationalities inhabiting it. Yunnan now falls within a broader Chinese strategy, which focuses on development, stability, and security of the periphery. Development pertains to opening up the border areas, creation of infrastructure, and responding to ecological concerns. In terms of stability, China is looking at managing inter-ethnic relations, solving religious problems, and containing divisions in interests that find their origins in local governance issues and grievances. Yunnan is situated in a highly populous and densely packed international environment, and therefore, security centres on border management, checks on migration and trafficking, and border construction.

In the post-1978 reforms period, Yunnan has been brought on the fast track of economic development under the Counterpart Assistance Programme, with Shanghai lending expertise, investments, and support to local development efforts. Yunnan also operates in direct economic partnerships with neighbouring countries. Much emphasis has been on boosting sub-regional trade and tourism through highway and railway projects aiming to link international centres such as Bangkok and Singapore to Kunming in Yunnan. Of all the provinces with large ethnic minority populations, Yunnan is increasingly becoming the most well-integrated part of China’s periphery.

Perspectives on Guangdong
Dr Ritu Agarwal, Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Guangdong is conspicuous for its centrality in being China’s economic powerhouse, in spite of its location on the country’s geographic periphery. As a part of the south China coast, the province has traditionally signified an interface with the outside world, and has been a key focus area for modern day investment and economic development. This is also a known marker of regional economic inequality in China, which has led to several measures in the past for shifting the manufacturing base to the western regions, and spreading the industrial sector into China’s interior.

Guangdong is geographically very well-suited for export-oriented growth. Although it was the first Chinese province to come in contact with Western influences, yet it remained a remote maritime frontier for a long period. Foreign trade, commerce, and shipping have transformed it into a magnetic centre of economic growth, and a model of peripheral upliftment.

At present, Guangdong highlights the internal drive for social and political reforms within China, and the pattern of extensive internationalisation of its most developed regions. In many ways, Guangdong encourages the debate on the definitions of core and periphery, bringing to light the contrast between absolute and relative narratives of centre-province dynamics.

Perspectives on Guangxi Zhuang
Moromti Boroowa, MPhil candidate, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has achieved the honour of being a model of development for all the other ethnic minorities, as well as the minority autonomous regions. The government is doing its utmost to bring overall improvement in Guangxi’s socio-political and economic conditions. Unlike before, political activities are completely handled by ethnic minority cadres who receive ample training from the CPC. Many ethnic cadres from Guangxi are annually sent to central state organs, or the developed provinces and cities of the eastern coast, for temporary assignments to government or CPC posts.

As far as economic development is concerned, there is still a large gap between the Han population inhabiting the eastern part, and the huge minority populations inhabiting the western part of Guangxi. The genuine per capita income of the minority populations is half of that of the Han population. The reasons behind these can be the competitiveness and efficiency-oriented hiring found in market economies.

In recent years, the state has built up a series of large scale hydroelectric power plants as well as mineral firms, which have rendered great benefit to the region. However, these built up projects have been seen as encroachments upon the age-old resources of water, minerals, lands, and forests of the local minority residents. Some ten large scale hydroelectric power plants are built upon flood-prone rivers of Guangxi. Due to these projects, the people with their livelihoods within these regions are directly affected by inundation.