A recent traffic incident and the ensuing protests have aroused unusual attention, because it occurred in Xilinhot, Inner Mongolia, where ethnic Mongolians live alongside Han people.
In some media reports, the incident has been depicted as a Mongolian protest against Han’s dominance, similar to the Xinjiang riots in 2009 and Tibet unrest in 2008.
However, it is improper to make this link. The Mongolian protests, over a herd being run over by a Han truck driver, are not a politically driven demonstration. Some of their requests are reasonable, and should be responded to by the local government.
Inner Mongolia has been a model area where different ethnic group co-habit in harmony, but like many other ethnic areas, it faces the difficulties of balancing a growing economy and preserving minority culture and lifestyle. The best way can only be found by coming to a consensus.
Anger of local Mongolians toward the Han driver is understandable. The anger is also partly a result of their anxiety over a wave of industrialization, and how the mining industry might affect their lives. We believe the majority of Chinese sympathize with their reasonable requests.
It is worth noticing the protests saw no violence between different ethnic groups. Groups such as the little-known US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center tried to advocate the interests of local Mongolians. With little connection to the local situation, their appeal is questionable.
Following the prevailing thinking of maintaining order and stability, the domestic media has had little coverage over the protest. The concern of the local government is understandable, but in the Internet age, such information can hardly be concealed. Soon after the protests broke out, the information, many of which was first reported by overseas media, has spread over the Internet.
Social conflicts are on the rise in China and ethnic minority areas are no exception. But the incidents there should not be exaggerated or over-interpreted. The key is to understand the reason behind, face it, and find the solution.
Putting this under a broad context, what happened in Xilinhot is like many other challenges China is facing nationwide. It deserves more attention, but may not necessarily deserve particular anxiety.