Explained: Tibet passes law to make ‘ethnic unity’ mandatory. What does it mean?

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In the recent past, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged people to strengthen the community spirit and has called on ethnic groups to unite. (Photo: AP/File)

The People’s Congress of Tibet Saturday passed a law that makes ethnic unity in the region mandatory, reflecting the significant role that the autonomous Himalayan region plays in its economic and social development. These regulations will come into effect from May 1 and are meant to “strengthen ethnic unity”.

The law makes it clear that Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since ancient times and that it is the common responsibility of the people of all ethnic groups to safeguard national reunification and take a clear stand against separatism, PTI reported.

There are more than 40 ethnic minorities in the region, which account for 95 per cent of Tibet’s population of over three million.

Like Tibet, Xinjiang is another region of China that houses multiple ethnic minorities. A similar legislation was passed there four years ago and in recent times, China has faced criticism for detaining at least a million Uighur and other Muslims, along with some ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, a region that has been claimed by China since 1949. A report in the South China Morning Post says that officials in Xinjiang have sometimes cited such rules to justify the crackdown.

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China has denied these allegations and maintains that the facilities where the detainees are housed are vocational training centers.

Ethnic Unity in China

This is not the first time that the phrase ethnic unity has been mentioned by China.

In October 2019, the General Offices of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee published a guideline for enhancing ethnic unity, which stressed on efforts to improve the governance of ethnic affairs, guaranteeing the legal rights and interests of citizens of ethnic groups and cracking down on “criminal acts” that sabotage ethnic unity or cause ethnic separation, Xinhua Net reported at the time.

Before this, in 2016, China began a campaign in the autonomous territory of Xinjiang to promote ethnic unity and called for people to respect the cultures of the minorities who call the region home.

Why is ethnic unity important?

According to a paper published by The Jamestown Foundation, in China different ethnic groups and nationalities are considered to progress at different speeds towards the common goal of socialism and harmony.

In fact, in the recent past, Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged people to strengthen the community spirit and has called on ethnic groups to unite. In September 2019 at an event to honour role models and groups on ethnic unity and progress, he emphasised that patriotic teaching should be a priority. In November 2019, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council published an outline for promoting patriotic education in the new era. Therefore, patriotic education is an important vehicle for the promotion of values that further“ethnic unity”. This is in line with Xi’s self-described “New Era”, which marks a departure from previous attempts towards establishing a system of ethnic autonomy, as per the paper.

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