Authorities have agreed to grant rare economic concessions to ethnic Mongolian herders after hundreds of protesters took to the streets in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region last week calling for protection of their traditional livelihood, a U.S.-based rights group said Wednesday.
Around 400 Mongolian herders protested in Huvuut-shar Banner (in Chinese, Xianghuang Qi) on Oct. 8, carrying placards railing against competition from Chinese government and corporate monopolies, according to the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
The group of protesters demonstrated peacefully in the banner —the administrative equivalent of a county— and delivered a petition listing their grievances to authorities, who quickly arranged a meeting between herder representatives, and the local governor and ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary, fearing further unrest, the U.S.-based SMHRIC said.
In a statement detailing their demands to the government and obtained by SMHRIC, the herders cited the illegal confiscation of their grazing land, concerns over mining, official inaction following natural disasters and delays in compensation payments.
“Slaughter houses and meat processing companies that poured into Southern [Inner] Mongolia are sheer corporate monopolies ... for the sole purpose of making profit they not only violate relevant laws and regulations but also pay no regard to conventions of pastoralist economy,” the statement said.
The herders from Huvuut-shar, situated in the region’s Xilin Gol (Xilinguole) League (prefecture), also demanded that the government put to an end to corporate monopolies in herding communities and punish corrupt officials who support the monopolies at the cost of herders’ economic wellbeing.
“A few years ago the Banner Government announced that the Banner’s GDP has topped 0.2 billion yuan (U.S. $32.6 million),” the statement said, without providing a figure for the previous year.
“This was achieved by opening up oil, natural gas and other mineral resources from our grazing lands. Yet, not only did the government fail to respond to the natural disasters that strike our herders’ communities, but also it refused to pay the subsidies and compensations that we are entitled to receive.”
In another statement issued on the same day, after meeting with local officials, the herders said that government representatives of Huvuut-shar had promised them a number of initial concessions.
Every household is now guaranteed a subsidy for livestock hay and fodder of 1,500 yuan (U.S. $245), the statement said, without specifying if the assistance was recurring or a one-time payment.
Each household will also be paid 5 yuan (U.S. $0.80) per head of livestock as part of a disaster relief fund, it said, in accordance with a Banner-wide inventory taken on June 30.
Lastly, the government agreed to deliver 20 percent of any unpaid compensation for environmental losses within five days of the meeting, by which point officials also promised to “respond to the remaining questions” from their list of demands, the herders said.
SMHRIC said it had not received information about whether the Banner government had followed up with its pledge.
Clashes between Chinese companies and ethnic Mongolian herders protesting the exploitation of their grasslands are increasingly common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
Rights activists say grasslands on which the herding communities depend for a living are constantly being taken over for China’s mining and tourism industries, and for national development projects, forcing them to take action to stand up for their rights.
According to SMHRIC, herders from Inner Mongolia’s eastern Shin-Barag Right Banner (Xin Ba Erhu Youqi) recently gathered in front of the banner government building to protest the appropriation of grazing land by local authorities and mining companies, and demanded protection of herders’ collective rights to land, minerals, and water.
The rights group did not provide information on whether their demands had been met, but protests by herders only rarely receive positive responses from local authorities in Inner Mongolia.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, regularly complain of environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.