Authorities in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region earlier this month blocked an attempted cross-country march by traditional Mongol herders, with police assaulting hundreds in two incidents. In the first incident, herders from Inner Mongolia’s Durbed (Chinese: Siziwang) banner (county) gathered at Hohhot train station on March 1, intending to march nearly 500 kilometers to Beijing. But police quickly arrived and broke up the gathering, according to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC). The following day, troops in a dozen police vehicles descended on Halgait village in Zaruud (Zhalute) banner, breaking up another group that intended to march on Beijing. The herders hoped to arrive in Beijing for the meeting of the National People’s Congress where Xi Jinping was installed as president, to protest confiscation of grazing lands.
In addition to land-grabbing by corrupt officials, some grazing lands have been seized for new military bases. According to reports received by the SMHRIC from the impacted communities in Durbed, 1,767 herders from 470 households had recently been displaced for the expansion of the Beijing Military Command’s Zureh Military Training Base. The base, which is the largest of its kind in China, already occupies around 1,000 square kilometers of the best grassland in Inner Mongolia, according to SMHRIC.
Some lands are also being turned over to mining operations. SMHRIC cited reports of herders being beaten by goons in the employ of the Yi Cheng Coal Mining company when they protested the seizure of their lands. SMHRIC charged that herders in Inner Mongolia have been “continuously displaced” without adequate compensation.
Internet posts about the marches being shut down were removed from blogs and social media, the SMHRIC said. A Beijing-based activist named Yu Guofu was accused of being an “anti-revolutionary” and threatened with arrest by local authorities in Zaruud banner for posting information online about the March 2 incident. (Radio Free Asia, March 7)
Mongol dissident in “extra-legal detention”
Concerns are meanwhile being raised over the well-being of a Mongol dissident known by the single name of Hada, who is apparently being held in “extra-legal detention.” Hada, 57, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1996 on charges of “espionage” and “separatism.” Since his release in December 2010, he has been held at Jinye Ecological Park outside Inner Mongolia’s provincial capital of Hohhot—despite not having been charged with any new crime. His lawyer and family members, in a letter to New York-based Human Rights in China, said that they feared for his health. “Being locked up for 17 years has ravaged his body and mind,” the letter stated, adding that his condition is “deteriorating.”
“One can see that his self-control is in serious decline and he is anxious and irritable. Originally, Hada was a very clean person, but during this visit I found that his ability to take care of himself has seriously declined. His dirty clothes were piled up unwashed, and he has a severe psychological dependence on alcohol,” Xinna wrote. Since the letters were received and translated last month, Hada’s son and wife have been unreachable, activists say. Authorities have forbidden them to communicate with the foreign press or rights groups.
Hada remains one of the most recognized spokesman for most of China’s 6 million ethnic Mongols. As an intellectual and bookstore owner, Hada was an instrumental figure in movements promoting the Mongol language, culture, and identity. Before his imprisonment, he co-founded the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance, which reportedly called for independence from China and eventual unification with the nation of Mongolia. After his arrest in 1995, hundreds of students gathered outside Hada’s bookstore, demanding his release and waving portraits of Genghis Khan. Hada was denied a lawyer, and was convicted of “splitting the country,” conspiring to overthrow the government, and espionage.
Hada continues to be held because, activists say, he refuses to confess to the charges on which he was convicted. “The Chinese have kind of a curious mentality,” said Sanj Altan of the Mongolian American Cultural Association. “In any other civilized country, once you’ve served your sentence, they let you out. But in China it’s not enough that you serve your debt to society, but you also have to then go through this sham ritual of, ‘Yeah I admit I did wrong.’ What kind of legal principle is this?” (Global Post, March 5)
“The west must subsidize the east”
It was also 15 years ago that China’s government launched its “Go West” campaign to spur development in the interior provinces, including Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. The 12th Five-Year Plan on Energy Development, released this January by the State Council, calls for building and expanding 14 massive “energy bases”—mostly in western provinces—featuring coal mines, power plants and petrochemical facilities. By 2015, the government aims for these hubs to supply more than half the coal mined in China. Coal generates nearly 80% of the China’s electricity, and the counntry now burns half the coal consumed in the world annually.
But concerns are raised about the vast quantities of water that will be needed to mine the coal in arid regions such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said that in order to acheive the ambitious plan, “China has to become a world leader on water-use efficiency, as well as energy efficiency, but so far there’s been too little focus on water.” Recent studies on China’s energy-water conundrum by the such odd bedfellows as Greenpeace East Asia (“Thirsty Coal“) and HSBC financial giant (“No Water, No Power“) echo that warning.
In Inner Mongolia, coal mines and petrochemical plants are already tapping aquifers and wetlands, leaving grasslands parched, and hurting the livelihoods of local herders and farmers. In May 2011, protests erupted after a herder died under the wheels of a coal truck. The ethnic cast of the protests (the herder was Mongol, and truck driver Han) masked the underlying environmental factors in local Mongol rage.
Ailun Yang, a senior associate of the World Resources Institute’s Climate and Energy Program sees a pattern in which “the west must subsidize the east” with natural resources, while Beijing sends money to the west. But the industrial investment may not be improving the lives of the Mongols and Uighurs who inhabit the targeted western regions—among China’s poorest ethnic minorities. Xinjiang, the restive Uighur homeland, is on track to become China’s top coal-producing province by 2020. Under the West-East Electricity Transfer Project, much of that coal be converted into electricity flowing to the eastern megalopoli of Beijing and Tianjin. (Business Week, March 21)
In an integrated project, China is also planning massive water diversions to facilitate the development drive.