Genghis Khan Would Not Be Pleased


Inner Mongolia: Little Hu and the mining of the grasslands | The Economist.

LOCAL legend has it that the beauty of the grasslands in Xilin Gol, a prefecture in eastern Inner Mongolia, so captivated the 13th-century warrior Genghis Khan that he planned to settle down there once his battles were over.

But the grasslands are disappearing into the maw of giant machines that scrape coal from the ground.  Ethnic Mongolians, who make up about 20% of the province’s population, are upset with what they see as land grabs by corrupt officials and giant corporations.

Hu Chunhua, the provincial communist Party chief, is working hard to quell the unrest.  Mr. Hu is believed to be a favorite of China’s current leader Hu Jintao, who is said to be preparing the young Mr. Hu for higher office.  But what seemed to be an easy job in booming Inner Mongolia has proved to be more difficult than expected.

The mining is ripping up the delicate grasslands for both coal and rare earths such as germanium, used in making solar cells and wind turbines.  This mining also depletes the scarce water supply.

Land disputes between miners and Mongol herders became commonplace. In a typical incident, in May 2011, a group of Mongol herders was trying to stop mining lorries crossing and churning up grassland near their homes about 110km (70 miles) north-east of Xilinhot. During the night, a lorry driven by an ethnic Han Chinese driver hit one of the herders, called Mergen (single-named, like many Mongols). It dragged him over the grassland for 150 metres, killing him.

Protests erupted, leading to a march on the provincial capitol.  They spread as far south as Shangdu, the site of Kubla Khan’s “pleasure domes.”

Mr. Hu responded with force, calling out paramilitary police to patrol the areas.

In the provincial capital, Hohhot, university students were temporarily barred from leaving campuses and the central square was sealed off by security forces.

How will China’s leaders manage both the country’s need for energy and the ethnic minority’s need to maintain their heritage?  How will his response affect Mr. Hu’s chances of rising within the ranks of the Communist Party?

…grievances over the environment and land rights are widespread across China, as shown last week by large-scale and violent protests against the building of a copper-alloy factory in the south-western city of Shifang. Even if most Mongols are not yearning for independence, Mr Hu cannot relax.

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