Opinion / Editorials

Ethnic policy rests on equality

(China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-24 08:02

The new guidelines on ethnic affairs, issued jointly by the Party and State Council and made public on Monday, may sound insipid to many.

And even without the news about the ultimate fall of Ling Jihua, a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee and head of the United Front Work Department of the Party Central Committee, there would have been plenty of more sensational topics vying for people's attention.

But the seemingly dull text promises profound changes to the country's approach to ethnic affairs and may help make true the long-standing promise to deliver good governance in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.

There is nothing revolutionary in the document, because it was based on and is consistent with the principles of equality and common prosperity. A lot has already been done for the 55 minority ethnic groups under those principles. From the establishment of the system of regional ethnic autonomy to the mechanism of one-on-one aid programs tailored to the specific needs of ethnic minority areas.

Yet developments in ethnic affairs and ethnic minority areas, such as the infiltration of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, have made it imperative to update existing policies.

On the basis of candid reevaluation of the status quo, the new guidelines come up with a simple yet to-the-point prescription: Substantiating the vow of equality in an all-round manner.

The ideas to prioritize improving basic public services and people's livelihoods, refine differentiated support policies, perfect general financial transfer payment mechanisms, and to implement a resource use fee and ecological compensation system are surely conducive to narrowing development gaps between ethnic minority-inhabited areas and the rest of the country.

In particular, the requirement that Han officials working in ethnic minority areas learn and master the language of the main local ethnic group is a laudable new gesture of respect for the local community. It goes a step further than the traditional principle of respecting ethnic minority officials' right to use their own languages.

And of even farther-reaching significance will be the realization of the guideline to "properly handle matters involving ethnic factors in accordance with the law ... not attribute civil or criminal issues concerning ethnic minority people to ethnic problems, or simplistically define ordinary contradictions and disputes that take place in ethnic minority areas as ethnic problems."

Such a misguided propensity not only blinds us from the truth of the matter. It also has the devastating potential of poisoning ethnic relations.

Making such a vital distinction will facilitate both societal harmony and law enforcement when ethnic factors are involved.

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