State Council Announces Five Year Plan for Minorities with Small Populations

May 25, 2005

The State Council announced on May 18 a new Five Year Plan to promote economic development among China’s 22 minority groups that have fewer than 100,000 members. The State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) devotes a special section of its Web page to policies toward this special group of minorities. SEAC notes that these groups reside primarily in western China along international borders, and 16 of them have ethnic counterparts across the border in other countries. Since 2000, the government has made a priority of assisting the minority border regions, the poorest of the minority counties, and minorities with small populations.

These three categories of minorities represent the most impoverished minority groups (per capita income in the 135 border counties in 1998 was only 26.1 percent of the national average). Nonetheless, some members of the larger minority groups have expressed private concerns that the government's minority policy disproportionately favors smaller groups. Some Uighurs and Zhuang, for example, note that within the provincial-level Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, several minority groups have been granted autonomous prefectures or autonomous counties. Once established, these prefectures and counties are eligible for special development assistance funds that the central and provincial governments earmark for county-level autonomous governments.

For example, the Bayinguoleng Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang contains one-quarter of Xinjiang's total land. Although only 4.46 percent of the Bayinguoleng population is Mongol and 34.25 percent is Uighur, the Chinese Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law require that the head of the prefectural government be Mongol. In another example, a portion of Guangxi's poverty alleviation funds is earmarked for minority counties, which means that Bama Yao Autonomous County (17.24 percent Yao and 69.46 percent Zhuang) is eligible for certain development assistance programs not available to nearby Jingxi County, which does not have autonomous standing despite over 99 percent of its population being ethnic Zhuang.