Ethnic Policy in China: Is Reform Inevitable?


September 6, 2013 2:36 pm

By James Liebold 

Policy Studies, No. 68

[eastwestcenter.org]

Following significant interethnic violence beginning in 2008, Chinese intellectuals and policymakers are now engaged in unprecedented debate over the future direction of their country’s ethnic policies. This study attempts to gauge current Chinese opinion on this once-secretive and still highly sensitive area of national policy.

Domestic Chinese opinion on ethnic policies over the last five years is reviewed and implications for future policies under the new leadership of CPC Secretary General Xi Jinping are explored. Careful review of a wide spectrum of contemporary Chinese commentary identifies an emerging consensus for ethnic-policy reform. Leading public intellectuals, as well as some party officials, now openly call for new measures strengthening national integration at the expense of minority rights and autonomy. These reformers argue that divisive ethnic policies adopted from the former USSR must be replaced by those supporting an ethnic “melting pot” concept.

Despite this important shift in opinion, such radical policy changes as ending regional ethnic autonomy or minority preferences are unlikely over the short-to-medium term. Small-yet-significant adjustments in rhetoric and policy emphasis are, however, expected as the party-state attempts to strengthen interethnic cohesiveness as a part of its larger agenda of stability maintenance.

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