Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian.
What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia?
The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as opposed to starting in the second grade, as was previously the case.
To appease the strong pushback, a second announcement was made, saying that no further changes would be introduced.
However, the decision to stop using Mongolian to teach first-grade elementary-school children had already set the cat among the pigeons, and people were worried that the changes were the thin end of the wedge, with others likely to follow.
One of the more disingenuous answers to criticism was that “the design of the teaching materials is at the discretion of the state.” The Bureau also said that the introduction of unified textbooks was according to a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy to reinforce the adoption of a common writing system in ethnic minority regions.
This was reminiscent of the mayor of Wuhan passing the buck to the central authorities for the COVID-19 pandemic, absolving himself of responsibility.
The Inner Mongolia Incident during the Cultural Revolution left tens of thousands of people dead, or mutilated and disabled. The incident also left permanent psychological scars on the Inner Mongolian public, and the latest initiative has touched a real nerve.
In the past few weeks, 300,000 students have taken to the streets, joined by parents, public officials, and employees of Inner Mongolia Radio and Television. While several mid-level CCP cadres were sacked because of their opposition to the new policy, some avid support for protesters came from public officials. Presumably, the demonstrations also enjoyed a degree of tacit approval from more senior figures.
Former Inner Mongolian communist leader Ulanhu (烏蘭夫), who served as Chinese vice premier from 1983 to 1988, had joined the CCP in 1925. Inner Mongolia Chairwoman Bu Xiaolin (布小林) is his granddaughter. Inner Mongolia CCP Secretary Shi Taifeng (石泰峰) is an academic who has served as vice president of the CCP’s Central Party School in Beijing.
Xi trusts neither Bu nor Shi, and on Aug. 29 dispatched Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (趙克志) to the region to suppress the protests with armored vehicles and bounties for informants that have led to the detention of 130 protesters.
Xi’s “national rejuvenation” is hitting walls all over, and he dare not attack Taiwan while it is being offered military support by the US.
In Xi’s mind, Mongolia is a soft target. Inner Mongolia has a population of about 6 million, while Mongolia only has 3 million.
For Xi, these statistics make it an attractive candidate for annexation. As part of his plan to recover territory previously lost, he can claim that Mongol Empire founder Genghis Khan was also a honorary Chinese, and his territory is thus “an inalienable part of China.”
The topography of landlocked Mongolia would make it difficult for the US to intervene militarily. The US would also have to deal with being caught in between Russia and China if it became embroiled there.
Mongolian independence was bought with money and weapons from Republic of China (ROC) founder Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) and the Soviet Union. Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) did not dare thrust his oar into the situation, but the Chinese communists, including Mao Zedong (毛澤東) himself, were consistently supportive.
On Feb. 27, Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga traveled to Beijing, disregarding the risk of catching COVID-19, to present 30,000 Mongolian sheep to Xi. After Battulga’s return, and his mandatory 14 day quarantine, the Mongolian government passed a law stipulating that the country would within five years reinstate the use of the traditional Mongolian script in its schools, replacing the Cyrillic writing system used during the Soviet era.
Clearly, Battulga had visited China to show good intent, but must have been surprised to see Xi so callously moving forward to abolish the use of the Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia.
Beijing’s lack of good faith has moved Mongolians to take the streets of Ulan Bator, despite calls for caution on the matter by the Mongolian government, which has not made an official statement on its curricula changes.
It is cautious because Beijing has claimed that protests in Inner Mongolia have been sparked by interference from abroad — a possible pretext for military intervention in Mongolia.
While Russia has supported Mongolia in the past, this latest move at “de-Russification” might mean that Mongolia will not necessarily be able to rely on support from Moscow.
Anyone concerned about regional stability should watch closely how this situation develops. In Taiwan, where does the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which still adheres to “begonia China” — the shape of the historic pre-World War II China, prior to Mongolian independence — stand on this issue? Does the KMT agree with Xi?
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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