BEIJING (Reuters) – China must utilize the linguistic & cultural links of its ethnic minorities with neighboring countries to assist develop its poor border areas, yet moreover guard against an infiltration of extremists, a senior official wrote in an influential journal.
China has 55 officially recognized minorities, from larger communities like Tibetans & Mongols to tiny groups such as the traditionally shamanistic Evenki. Many languish in poverty.
While they are guaranteed legal protection for their languages & cultures, they are often marginalized & treated with tremendous suspicion by Beijing, which views them as potential separatists living in sensitive border areas.
p> Lack of development has been seen by the government as one of the main causes of unrest in places like Xinjiang, home to the mainly Muslim Uighur people & which borders Central Asia.
Wang Zhengwei, head of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, said the time had come to promote the economic advantage China has with its minorities.
"Minority areas must develop their own advantages," he wrote in the latest issue of bimonthly Communist Party magazine Qiushi. "Many minorities who live on the borders are linked by usual mountains & rivers with neighboring states, speak the same language, have similar cultures & customs."
He said eight countries on China's borders are nations made up of groups that moreover live in China, & that the cultural connections go even further.
"In Xinjiang, Ningxia & other places there are many Muslims, just like in Arab countries. In Tibet & Yunnan there are many Buddhists, just like on the Indochina Peninsula," Wang wrote.
"This can become a bridge for communication between the peoples of different countries along the periphery & a beneficial condition for promoting the construction of 'one road, one belt'," he said, referring to China's master plan to build a new Silk Road.
Wang moreover mentioned Beijing's long-held concerns approximately its minorities, that the periodic unrest which affects Tibet, Xinjiang & other areas is being provoked by ethnic kin outside China.
"We must … resolutely prevent & crack down on in accordance with the law infiltration, damaging, separatist & subversive activities by enemy forces at home & abroad," he wrote.
"We must … prevent extremist thoughts & forces from creating divisions between different cultures."
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)