Government Calls for Strengthening Propaganda on Ethnic Policy

February 17, 2009

Two central government agencies recently issued an outline to strengthen propaganda and education on the government and Communist Party's policy on ethnic issues, according to reports from Chinese media. The undated Outline Concerning Propaganda and Education on the Party and State's Ethnic Policy (Outline) was issued by the Central Propaganda Bureau and State Ethnic Affairs Commission and publicized in early February. (See, e.g., a February 4 Xinhua article describing the Outline.) The Outline follows other efforts in recent months to bolster state policy on ethnic issues, in areas including the promotion of "ethnic unity education" and the advancement of science and technology development among ethnic minorities. The policy guidelines come in the aftermath of demonstrations in spring 2008 by Tibetans and Uyghurs protesting government policies toward these groups. Tibetans and Uyghurs are among the 55 groups designated as "minority ethnicities" (shaoshu minzu, also translated as "minority nationalities") by the Chinese government.

The recent Outline affirms state policy toward ethnic minority groups and ethnic relations, provides a description of specific measures to address ethnic issues, and outlines methods for enhancing policy implementation. Specific features include:

Affirming the Importance of Ethnic Unity

Several points within the Outline provide an overview of China's status as a multiethnic country and describe the recent state of ethnic relations.

  • According to the Outline, China's multiethnic status "has been the determinant that strengthening ethnic unity, in the final analysis, is a major task affecting the unification of the motherland, territorial integrity, and consolidating frontier defense." (Point 1)
  • While affirming that all ethnic groups are equal and are "masters of their own affairs" within the socialist system, the Outline also notes outstanding problems remain as a result of factors such as inadequate mutual understanding among ethnic groups, discrepancies in economic and cultural development, a historical legacy of ethnic bias and estrangement among ethnic groups, and poor understanding of the legal structure affecting ethnic groups. (Point 3)
  • The Outline also notes that "international hostile forces" continue to carry out the "political schemes" of "westernization" and "separatism." According to the Outline, these "hostile forces" coordinate with "domestic ethnic separatist forces" to use "so-called ethnic, religious, and human rights issues" to carry out activities such as "infiltration" and "subversion." The Outline describes March 2008 protests in Tibetan areas as an "alarm bell" in this respect. (Point 3)

Affirming State Policy as a "Lifeline" for Ethnic Unity

  • The Outline affirms the state's existing model for dealing with ethnic issues, noting that Party policy "has concentrated the wisdom and painstaking effort of several generations of Party figures in their dealing with ethnic issues, and it is an important component of the Party's basic theories, basic vocabulary, basic programs, and basic experiences[.]" (Point 5)
  • It also highlights the importance of strengthening ethnic relations and ethnic unity in order to realize full implementation of Party policy, while also noting that improving ethnic relations and unity can only be truly achieved under Party policy. (Point 6)

Describing State Policy

Several points within the Outline provide a general overview of Party policy on ethnic issues.

  • The Outline describes equality among ethnic groups as a cornerstone of Party policy and describes legal protections for ethnic minorities within the PRC Constitution and laws. It adds that the state guarantees equal rights in areas including employment and that each ethnic group has the right to use and develop its own language. (Point 8) (The Congressional-Executive Commission on China has observed job hiring practices in both government and private sectors that discriminate against ethnic minorities. See analyses from 2005, 2006, and 2009. It has also tracked policies that undercut protections for ethnic minority languages stipulated in Chinese law.)
  • While acknowledging that problems remain in ethnic relations and ethnic unity, the Outline attributes them to "contradictions among the people" and calls for promoting "principles, legal institutions, policies, and strategies" to remedy this. It also calls for resisting "international hostile forces raising the banner of such things as 'ethnicity,' 'religion,' and 'human rights' to carry out westernization and separatist activities toward our country." In addition, it calls for striking against the "infiltration and sabotage" of "ethnic separatist forces, religious extremist forces, and violent terrorist forces." (Point 9)
  • The Outline describes its system of self-government in designated ethnic minority areas as a basic policy that promotes ethnic minorities' right to autonomy. At the same time, the Outline stresses the role of autonomous governments in guaranteeing the fundamental policies of the Party and central government. (Point 10)

Strengthening Implementation of State Policy

  • The Outline concludes with a call for propaganda and education on the state's policy on ethnic issues, calling for education among both ethnic minorities and "especially" among Han Chinese, and education of both the public and "especially" of cadres. (Point 13)
  • The Outline also calls on service providers, employers, and other groups to observe legal provisions that protect equality among ethnic groups. In addition, it calls for preventing situations that "hurt the feelings of ethnic groups and injure ethnic unity" (Point 14), sentiments that have been used in the past to promote publishing restrictions.

Although it attributes outstanding problems to "contradictions among the people" rather than shortcomings in state policy, the Outline's attention to existing problems underscores the barriers that ethnic minority citizens of China continue to face in protecting their rights. As noted in the CECC 2007 and 2008 Annual Reports, ethnic minorities in China do not enjoy the "right to administer their internal affairs" as guaranteed to them in Chinese law. Overarching Party and government policy limits the scope of China's regional ethnic autonomy system and places curbs on autonomous governments' legislative powers. Although the Chinese government protects some aspects of ethnic minority rights and is more tolerant of ethnic minority communities not perceived to challenge state policies, shortcomings in both the substance and the implementation of Chinese policies toward ethnic minorities prevent ethnic minority citizens from enjoying their rights in line with domestic Chinese law and international legal standards.

For additional information, see the "Special Focus" on ethnic minority issues within the CECC 2005 Annual Report, Section II--Ethnic Minority Rights and Section IV--Tibet in the 2007 Annual Report and Section II--Ethnic Minority Rights, Section IV--Xinjiang, and Section V--Tibet in the 2008 Annual Report.