INTERVIEW: 'Herders Are Not Destroying Inner Mongolian Grasslands'

A Germany-based ethnic Mongolian dissident says the destruction of traditional grazing lands is at the heart of ethnic conflict in the region.

Han Chinese railroad workers beat and threaten Mongolian herders in Uushin banner, Inner Mongolia, on Aug. 19, 2013.

Ethnic Mongolian dissident-in-exile Xi Haiming, who is also known as Temcheltu in Mongolian, is founder and chairman of the Germany-based Inner Mongolian League for the Defense of Human Rights. As Chinese President Xi Jinping made a visit to the restive region at the start of the Year of the Horse, Xi Haiming spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about the roots of ethnic conflict there:

Q: What is your view of the ethnic problem in Inner Mongolia?

A: The ethnic problem in Inner Mongolia, or rather the most pressing problem that ethnic Mongolians want to express, is one of land rights. The land should belong to the ethnic Mongolian people, but it has become increasingly nationalized after the arrival of the Chinese Communist Party, and the ownership rights of ethnic Mongolians have been stripped away.

Now, they are continuing to strip ethnic Mongolians of their right to use the land. All of the clashes that have taken place in recent years are directly connected to this. For example, the incident that occurred in Xilin Gol league [prefecture] after [the killing of herder] Murgen in 2011. That happened because the trucks driven by the mining company were driving back and forth across the grazing lands used by the herders. When the herders protested, it made no difference, and eventually Murgen was run over and killed.

Then there was the beating to death of Bayanbaatar [a 58-year-old herder from in Uushin banner [in Chinese, Wushen county] in Ordos municipality after clashes with a railway company. More recently, there were clashes between herders and a forestry company in Ongniud Banner and Ulaanhad [Chifeng] city. There, a few herders were sentenced to prison after protesting during a dispute over the take-over of their grazing lands by a state-owned forestry company. Similar incidents also took place in Urad Front Banner [in Chinese, Wulate Qianqi] and Bayannur League [Bameng].

Q: So how is the land issue affecting the lives of herders?

A: Now, even the right to use the land is being taken away from ethnic Mongolians, to the point where they are forbidding herders from herding [sheep, horses and cattle] at all, and they are even saying that herding damages the grasslands.

The grasslands weren't damaged by the Mongolian people and their herding of livestock; they have been destroyed by the policy of converting land to agricultural use, and by the environmental devastation wrought by [open-cast] mining.

We have been herding for several thousand years, and the grasslands have been fine all along. It was only after the Communist Party came, and there were too many people, that the grasslands got smaller and smaller.

Another reason is that before, they would plant the land for agriculture, whereas now they are engaged in large-scale mining exploitation, which has caused utter destruction of the grasslands environment of Inner Mongolia.

As the new year begins, I'd like to wish all the older folk at home a happy new year, but also to tell them that we continue to care about our family and elders from overseas, and we will do our utmost to have our voices heard.

Reported by Tian Yi for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.