Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia are investigating a high school in the region after it hung up the flag and national symbols of Mongolia, an independent, democratic country sharing much of the Chinese region's culture.
Authorities are investigating the Ulaanhad Mongolian No. 1 High School in Ulaanhad city, known in Chinese as Chifeng, a New York-based rights group reported.
The school, which offered a Mongolian-language education, had had the Mongolian flag and emblem on display in its classrooms, according to social media reports.
It is now being investigated for "separatism," amid calls on social media for its teachers to be jailed, the Southern Mongolia Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said in a statement.
It cited media reports as saying that the Ulaanhad city government's propaganda department is carrying out an investigation.
Photos illustrating official media reports showed students in traditional Mongolian dress dancing in their classroom with a Mongolian national flag on the wall in the background.
The students also enjoyed traditional Mongolian food and took group pictures in their classroom which was decorated with a large national emblem of the independent country of Mongolia, a map of the Mongol Empire, and paintings of the Mongol Khan emperors, SMHRIC said.
"Any thought or act that runs counter to China's national sense of common destiny is ... doomed to failure," the article said.
"Although it is said there are 56 nationalities in China, in fact there is only one nationality, which is the Chinese nationality," one comment on the Sina.com news site read.
Sense of ethnic identity
A Japan-based representative of the pro-independence Inner Mongolian People's Party who gave only a single name, Huubis, said the Mongolian national flag is a common sight in the region, and only expresses a sense of ethnic identity.
"A lot of schools in Inner Mongolia hang the Mongolian national flag and emblem, because they share a culture," Huubis told RFA. "But a lot of online comments made out that this was an act of splitting the country."
"Now, the authorities are suddenly going after this sort of thing in Inner Mongolia," he said. "The government is fanning the flames behind the scenes, and then they will move in to suppress public comment on the matter."
Dissident ethnic Mongolian writer Hada said the government is looking for an excuse to implement the same sorts of policies in Inner Mongolia as it has in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where it has incarcerated at least a million Turkic Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in "re-education centers" that relatives and former inmates describe as akin to prisons or concentration camps.
"The Xi Jinping administration has already begun implementing a policy of ethnic assimilation and genocide in Xinjiang," Hada said. "But I and a lot of ethnic Mongolians are willing to fight for our culture to the last."
Ethnic Mongolian Boronruh Tsinrh, who grew up in China but who is now studying in Paris, said the ruling Chinese Communist Party is undergoing a huge political turnaround.
"The Chinese Communist Party now regards ethnic Mongolians as the enemy within who are planning to incite separatism in China," he said. "I think the fourth wave of persecution in Inner Mongolia is about to begin."
"It'll be hard for them to escape it, once public opinion is in favor of government action," he said.
String of abuses by the state
SMHRIC said it has been commonplace among ethnic Mongolians in China to hang the Mongolian national flag in their homes, print it on their cars, put it in social media profiles, and even tattoo it on their bodies.
Meanwhile, exiled Mongolian dissident writer Tumenulzei Buyanmend commented on Facebook that ethnic Mongolians have suffered a string of abuses at the hands of the Chinese state.
"Genocide, killing, torture, and imprisonment for over 70 years have not really helped the Chinese to wipe out our national identity," he wrote.
"We are still who we are, and our heart[s] and soul[s] have never accepted the Chinese."
In Xinjiang, the authorities initially denied the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in camps. But Communist Party regional chairman Shohrat Zakir told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from "terrorism" and to provide "vocational training" for inmates.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps — equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of Xinjiang.
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today."
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.