China's Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law: Does It Protect Minority Rights?

2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Monday, April 11, 2005 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Transcript (PDF) (Text)

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China held another in its series of staff-led Issues Roundtables, entitled "China’s Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law: Does it Protect Minority Rights?” on Monday, April 11, from 2:00 – 3:30 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

The Chinese government recognizes over 100 million people living within its borders as belonging to one of fifty-five minority nationalities. Although minorities constitute less than 9% of China’s total population, they occupy over 60% of the country’s total landmass, primarily along international borders. Minority areas often are located in resource-rich regions. More than thirty of the groups have ethnic counterparts abroad, making the assurance of their loyalty of strategic concern to the Chinese government.

The Constitution and the 1984 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law guarantee numerous rights to minorities, including: self-government within designated autonomous areas; proportional representation in the government; freedom to develop their own languages, religions, and cultures; and power to adjust central directives to local conditions. The laws also guarantee minorities greater control over local economic development than allowed in non-autonomous areas; the right to manage and protect local natural resources; and the right to organize local public security forces to safeguard public order.

The implementation of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law has varied greatly across China. The Chinese government systematically denies some minorities their legal rights and arbitrarily arrests their members for exercising legally protected freedoms. The government has particularly failed to uphold the legal rights of minorities living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.

Roundtable witnesses examined the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law and its implementation in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.


Mr. David L. Phillips, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


Dr. Gardner Bovingdon, Assistant Professor, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University

Dr. Christopher P. Atwood, Associate Professor, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University