Melbourne [Australia], July 13 : Often there have been questions about China's mistreatment of its minorities, whether on the plight of the Tibetans or rising tensions between the Chinese state and the Uighurs of Xinjiang.
According to an article appearing in the Conversation, since the 2000s, Beijing has been pushing a grand national strategy known as the Western Development Programme that primarily aims to integrate peripheral regions with the rest of the country, using infrastructure development.
While the programme is ostensibly focused on creating a more equal development model, it is also a nation-building mission, says the article.
While it aims both to better integrate groups outside the ethnic Han majority into China's mainstream politics, economy and culture, it also aims to encourage more Han Chinese to migrate to areas heavily populated by ethnic minorities.
The author Enze Han, Senior Lecturer in the International Security of East Asia, University of London says that he alongwith Christopher Paik in a took a stock of this programme's success by looking at Chinese census data from 2000 and 2010 alongside night-time satellite images of streetlight illumination. Because the Chinese state enjoys a monopoly on electricity provision, the electric light visible at night is a good indicator of how much development different areas have seen.
Han says that by comparing provinces' demographic changes with the change in their luminosity at night over ten years, they were able to establish that in Western China, the ethnic dimension of development is most salient in the five autonomous regions - Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi and Ningxia- that host China's 100m-plus ethnic minority people (about 8.5% of China's population).
If the Chinese central government considers an area better integrated, the minority populations who live there experience more development; in areas less integrated the central government is more likely to channel development efforts towards the west's Han Chinese populations in hopes of connecting them more closely with the rest of the country.
So whereas increases in ethnic minority concentration are generally associated with increases in development in the western provinces, this relationship does not hold in the autonomous provinces, which have benefited less from the Western Development Programme. Still predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities, they remain less integrated with the rest of China than other western areas.
Meanwhile, in Tibet, the correlation is negative: counties whose Tibetan population is outpacing the Han population have experienced less development. But the opposite is true in Inner Mongolia, where counties whose ethnic Mongol population is growing have benefited from more economic development, not less.
The explanation for this inconsistency is that Inner Mongolia was China's first official ethnic minority region, established in 1947 and because of the steady influx of Han Chinese, ethnic Mongolians now make up less than than 20% of its population. The Chinese government considers the region much better integrated than Tibet, which was only established as an autonomous region in 1965, and where Han Chinese still make up less than 10% of the population.
This suggests that the Chinese government doesn't treat all its ethnic minority groups in the same way: the more "loyal" a group is to the Chinese state and the more integrated it is into the culture and economy, the better its members will be treated. This does not bode well for the rebellious Tibetans or Uighurs, who continue to challenge the Chinese government's plans for their homelands.