Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 6 News List

China pushes interethnic unions in restive region

AFP, BEIJING

China’s fractious far-west region of Xinjiang has changed its university entrance exam rules to give children from mixed families a leg up on other students, in what experts have said are the latest efforts to erase a mostly Muslim ethnic culture.

Following a flare-up in violence in 2014, Chinese authorities have rolled out draconian security measures across Xinjiang in the past few years, from banning long beards and Muslim veils to placing an estimated 1 million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps.

Chinese officials have described the facilities as voluntary “vocational education centers” where Turkic-speaking people are taught Mandarin and job skills in a bid to steer them away from religious extremism.

However, rights groups and former inmates see the measures as part of a campaign to forcefully assimilate Uighurs and other minorities into the country’s majority ethnic Han society, diluting their unique cultures and religious beliefs.

Observers have said that the change in the university enrollment system is another step in that direction, particularly in a region where Uighurs in 2015 made up almost half of the population of 23 million.

In an online notice posted last week, the Xinjiang government published new rules for giving bonus points to disadvantaged groups in the nationwide college entrance exams — a key deciding factor for attending university in China.

In a reversal of last year’s policy, the regional government doubled the number of bonus points allocated to interethnic students — defined as those with one Han parent — to 20, while more than halving the amount for students whose parents are both ethnic minorities to 15.

The new exam policy is “part of this effort to Sinicize any kind of non-Han forms of thoughts and behavior,” La Trobe University professor James Leibold said.

The government believes that “interethnic marriage is a key vehicle for promoting national integration and assimilating the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Chinese nation,” said Leibold, who studies ethnic relations and policy in China.

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology China policy expert Timothy Grose said that the “new incentives for intermarriage expose the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] systematic approach to weakening Turkic-Muslim identities.”

“Perhaps officials are reintroducing the ‘carrot’ when in the past few years they have only been lashing the ‘stick,’” said Grose, whose research focuses on Uighurs.

The Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The change in exam policy is not the first time Chinese authorities have offered incentives for interethnic mixing.

In 2014, the Qiemo County Government in Xinjiang reportedly announced that it would gift mixed couples — one Han, one ethnic minority — annual cash payments of 10,000 yuan (US$1,447 at the current exchange rate) for the first five years of their marriage.

“Chinese policymakers and sociologists have long viewed high rates or high instances of interethnic marriage as a kind of proxy symbol for social cohesion and national integration,” Leibold said.

On top of initiatives spearheaded by the government, videos promoting Uighur-Han marriages have also emerged on social media over the past year, although it is unclear whether they are directly linked to official policies.

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