Ethnic Mongolians in Japan have staged protests during a visit by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to the country this week against Beijing’s policy of ending Mongolian-medium education in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.
Hundreds of Mongolians currently living in Japan protested outside the National Assembly in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday, calling on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reverse its policy, which sparked mass protests and school strikes across the region when it took effect on Sept. 1.
“Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is visiting Japan,” Khubis, an ethnic Mongolian scholar living in Japan, told RFA.
“Mongolians in Japan held a protest at the Japanese parliament; this will last for two days, [Tuesday and Wednesday],” he said.
Video of the protest posted to social media showed the protesters holding up banners and placards in Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese and English, which read: “Withdraw the sinicization policy!” “Stop oppressing Mongolians!” and “Give Mongolians back their mother tongue!”
Other slogans called on the CCP to respect cultural rights for ethnic minorities, as required by the Chinese constitution.
Protesters also sang a song that has become the anthem of the recent protests, “I am a Mongolian.”
Protester Tara, who gave only a single name, said there is massive opposition to the new language policy in schools that previously offered a Mongolian-medium education to children from ethnic Mongolian backgrounds.
“I hope that China will abide by its own constitution,” Tara said. “We call on the Chinese government to abandon its policy of cultural genocide.”
Qibatu, a Mongolian native of West Ujimqin Banner, said the change in teaching policy also violates China’s own laws governing promised autonomy for ethnic minority groups.
“The so-called new teaching methods are compulsory,” Qibatu said. “This is a total violation of ethnic minority mother tongue education in the region … which has aroused anger and opposition among Mongolians.”
Travel restrictions relaxed
Japan and China agreed on Tuesday to start allowing mutual business trips without observing a 14-day quarantine period before the end of the month in a bid to boost economic exchanges despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The two countries also set up a hotline to prevent military clashes around the Senkaku Islands, an archipelago in the East China Sea, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands.
The two ministers also pledged to begin a ministerial-level economic dialogue at the beginning of 2021.
Last year, China accounted for the largest number of foreign visitors to Japan, with some 9.59 million people arriving in the country, mostly for non-business purposes.
Meanwhile, an ethnic Mongolian in Inner Mongolia’s Chifeng city said dozens of members of a local herding community were detained by police for protesting against government policies in the region.
“Recently, they have been stepping up the sinicization of the education system in Inner Mongolia, starting with the first grade of primary school,” the person, who asked not to be named, said.
“By the second grade, they are expected to do extra self-study morning and evening to learn Chinese,” they said. “A lot of herders said they were opposed to this, and some of them made comments on WeChat.”
“Just recently, more than 30 herders were detained in Bairin Right Banner,” the person said.
Mass arrests, detentions
Chinese authorities have detained at least 8,000 ethnic Mongolians amid regionwide resistance to plans to phase out the use of the Mongolian language in schools.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has carried out mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, house arrests, and “intensive training” across the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia, after parents and students organized a region-wide class boycott and took to the streets in protest at changes to the curriculum, sources in the region and overseas rights activists have said.
The authorities have also fired ethnic Mongolian parents, blacklisted and expelled their children, confiscated assets, and denied bank loans to protesting parents.
Local governments, party committees, Communist Youth Leagues, state prosecutors, and courts have issued wanted notices across the region for anyone engaging in protest activity, according to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC).
Among the thousands placed in some form of detention are prominent ethnic Mongolian dissidents and their families, rights activists, writers, lawyers, and leaders of traditional herding communities.
The group said it was concerned about the growing number of references to “intensive training” in official documents during the crackdown, indicating that a “re-education” program is already under way across the region.
It cited a Sept. 14 official document as saying that “parents and guardians who fail to send their children back to school on time will be given legal education training.”
In addition to the change in language policy, first-graders in elementary schools are now required to undergo military training similar to that undergone by first-year college and university students across China.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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