It is easy to argue that after the violent riots in Xinjiang earlier this month, the government’s policies of providing preferential treatment for Uygurs and other minorities are misguided and counterproductive. Indeed, it is understandable that Han Chinese may resent these policies, which often result in a sort of positive discrimination in favor of ethnic minorities. In fact, however, they are necessary and justified, and they serve both China’s national interest and the interests of the country’s minority population.
Ethnic minorities often speak different languages and have different cultures from many Han Chinese. This often places them at a disadvantage, because they cannot communicate as well and do not have the same cultural background as other Han applicants to jobs and universities. Image a Turkish student who can’t speak English trying to compete with a British student in London. Obviously since that the overall environment favors the English, without some extra help, the Turkish student will struggle, through no fault of their own.
Clearly then, in the interest of fairness it is necessary for the government to facilitate the education of minority groups and help them become integration in the country’s overall economic development. As a result, in the case of the Uygurs, the government’s preferential treatment to ethnic minorities on issues such as education, investment, trade, and taxation, are justified in order to fundamentally ensure the Uygur people’s right to equality. Indeed, this is the standard set by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), to which China is a signatory. It states that differences in treatment do not amount to discrimination if they are "legitimate” – which China’s ethnic minority policy clearly is.
It is also important to include members of the minority group in the decision-making process and respect the concerns of local residents too – something China’s ethnic minority policy also tries to do. The National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010), issued by the State Council Information Office, highlighted goals to better improve the human rights of ethnic minorities. Article I of Part Three of the action plan states that “The state will make sure that all the 55 minority ethnic groups have their representatives in the National People's Congress, with at least one representative for any ethnic group with a very small population.”
While this may seem unfair to Han Chinese, this policy guarantees ethnic minorities the right to manage the affairs of their ethnic autonomous areas and participate in managing state affairs. In a country with 55 minority groups, this policy will ensure the balanced economy development in vast areas and finally contribute to the overall improvement of all ethnic groups in China, and thus to the improvement and development of China itself.
(China Daily July 15, 2009)