Poverty Alleviation: China's 'Anti-Poverty' Drive Leaves Mongolian Herders Out in Cold (Part II)

2020-12-13
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Poverty Alleviation: China's 'Anti-Poverty' Drive Leaves Mongolian Herders Out in Cold (Part II)
Photo: RFA

China declared in late November that it had officially met the target of eliminating extreme poverty by 2020, one of Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s signature initiatives to reach the CCP's goal to build a "moderately prosperous society" before the party’s 100th anniversary in 2021. In a three-party series, Rita Cheng of RFA's Mandarin Service examines the impact of poverty alleviation policies on ethnic minorities.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is forcing traditional herding families off their land and into the cities of its northern Inner Mongolia region, as part of an ostensible drive to eliminate poverty, RFA has learned.

Enghebatu Togochog, director of the New York-based Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), said large numbers of traditional ethnic Mongolian herders are being forced to leave grasslands around Chifeng city in the region's Orniud Banner, to make way for pig farms.

He said the moves are being accelerated under the guise of an anti-poverty drive under CCP general secretary Xi Jinping, and are destroying traditional Mongolian ways of life in China.

"The grasslands and rivers that make up our native land are gone, or dry," he told RFA in a recent interview. "The true culprit of this destruction of the grasslands is the Chinese government."

"They have a series of policies that are hostile to the traditional Mongolian lifestyle," he said. "In fact, Mongolia’s nomadic traditions are already the best suited to life on the Mongolian plateau."

"We have been very successful in maintaining the organic relationship between man and the environment for several thousand years," Enghebatu Togochog said.

The CCP's anti-poverty campaign recently removed the Orniud Banner from its nationwide list of poverty-stricken areas, while officials on the ground were busy detaining and evicting local herding families to make way for industrial pig farms.

The push to locate pig farms in Inner Mongolia, Yunnan and Guizhou came after a nationwide bid to reduce their environmental impact on richer coastal provinces and cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai, which stopped giving out planning permission to the industry.

Predatory mining of minerals in the Xilin Gol area of Inner Mongolia has caused pollution that has created desperate situation for local herdsmen.
Predatory mining of minerals in the Xilin Gol area of Inner Mongolia has caused pollution that has created desperate situation for local herdsmen.
Sustainability questions

Ethnic Mongolian Chen Qinglin said the CCP's policies were inimical to sustainability on the grasslands, which are already reeling from the environmental impact massive state-backed mining, forestry and industrial farming projects.

"The official way of talking about local achievements or poverty alleviation is utter nonsense," Chen said. "[CCP policies] go against both the ecological laws of the grasslands and the herding tradition."

As early as 2008, authorities in near Chifeng forced herding communities to move wholesale into neighboring towns or onto farmland in the name of "poverty alleviation," with the true aim of displacing them from their traditional lands, he said.

The region has also been subject to repeated migration of Han Chinese from elsewhere in the country, as well as repeated land grabs by the paramilitary-industrial bingtuan, whose shift towards large-scale industrial farming the region turned huge swathes of the ecologically sensitive grassland to desert, Chan and Enhebatu Togochog said.

Now, only two large grassland areas remain in Inner Mongolia, in Shiilin Gol League and near Ordos, and their area continues to shrink, they said.

"This not only destroys the traditional way of life on the grasslands, but also China's entire green belt," Enhebatu Togochog said.

"Neighboring countries including South Korea, Japan, and even the west coast of the United States have been hit by sandstorms," he said.

Relentless inbound investment backed by Beijing has also seen huge areas given over to canola and oat cultivation, as well as fruit orchards, in addition to the destruction wreaked by state-backed mining corporations.

Herders in Siziwang Banner near Ulanqab city have also been protesting against the expansion of pig farms in their areas. Many have been detained for their trouble.

"Once the Mongolians are gone, who is left to manage the grasslands?" Enhebatu Togochog said. "Basically the Han Chinese, who have been appropriating land and starting mining operations, all of which doesn't just destroy Mongolian culture; it does severe damage to the grasslands ecosystem."

"The policy is for ethnic Mongolians to move out, and for Han Chinese to move in, which is a form of cultural genocide targeting Mongolians," he said.

'A form of plunder'

According to Chen, the "poverty alleviation" schemes are forcing people to move away from environments where they were self-sufficient and into urban areas where they are consigned to far greater poverty.

"It's really a form of plunder, a form of poverty creation," he said. "Herders are being made homeless, losing their grazing lands, and therefore the means of production."

"This has a devastating impact on the next generation of herding communities," he said.

Under Xi Jinping, a number of political theories have sought to justify CCP policy with some referencing the U.S.' "melting pot" in a bid to justify the erasure of different groups' cultural identities as being in the service of a "unified national consciousness."

Attempts to instill such a "consciousness" are already under way with the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Turkic groups in camps across Xinjiang, as part of a process referred to by Beijing as "re-education."

Reported by Rita Cheng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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