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China All Out Helping Small Minorities Out of Poverty

Chinese government has pledged to initiate another round of poverty alleviation reforms to help the country's 22 smallest ethnic groups out of poverty within five years.

A total of 640 remote and underdeveloped ethnic villages will benefit from the campaign, according to a plan lately approved by the State Council.

"As the main battlefield of the upcoming poverty relief campaign, these villages will experience efforts from both the central and local governments," said the Plan on Supporting the Development of Less-Population Ethnic Groups (2005 to 2010), which is supposed to come into effect later this year.

According to figures released by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, the population of each of the 22 small ethnic groups is below 100,000 and they total only about 630,000, accounting for less than half one thousandth of the country's population.

"The campaign will focus on improving basic living conditions and increasing incomes of farmers and herdsmen from these ethnic groups," said the commission. "And the villages, especially those who are still facing food and clothing problems, are supposed to be helped out of poverty earlier than those from non- ethnic regions."

With those in east China's Fujian Province as an exception, all other residents of the ethnic groups live in frontier areas of the country's nine remote regions, including Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Yunnan. Some Chinese villagers even share the same village with foreign neighbors of the same minority.

However, despite all the difficulties, the ethnic groups did make much progress in past decades.

Latest statistics released by the commission reveal that the per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) of China's five ethnic autonomous regions of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet, Xinjiang and Guangxi, where most residents of the country's key ethnic groups live, had for the first time topped US$1,000 in 2004.

In comparison, the whole China reached that goal in 2003, with Inner Mongolia the same year and Xinjiang one year earlier.

But, the commission acknowledged, the economic development level of the 22 ethnic groups still lags far behind the country's average, quoting unfavorable natural conditions.

There remain "many ethnic villages lack of power, highway, elementary school, clinics and even potable water" and "some ethnic groups in poverty-stricken state as a whole," it said, noting that one fourth of the population of the 22 groups still suffer inadequate food and clothing supply.

In order to form a balanced development situation nationwide, China commenced its historical West Development Strategy in 2000 which serves to help western ethnic groups shake off poverty.

China has started 60 major projects since 2000 in its western part, with an approximate investment amount of 850 billion yuan (US$102 billion). In 2004, the fixed assets investment in the five regions soared 35.5 percent over that of the previous year.

"The fact that the per-capita GDP in the five regions has surpassed US$1,000 has fully demonstrated that with guidance and help from the government, the ethnic areas have significantly accelerated their development," said Yang Jianqiang, deputy director of commission.

"Different from some western countries, China has stressed more on construction and improvement of both the infrastructure and concepts among ethnic locals," he said.

Programs including free education and village-based broadcasting coverage are part of the ongoing bids designed to get more locals acquainted with the outside world and accessed to more knowledge.

"This form of government support of 'capability-fostering' rather than 'aid-giving' style has made it possible for the ethnic groups to shake off poverty at the very root," said Zhang Huijun, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The government's practical ideas have started to pay off after decades of promotion.

Liu Xiaochun, also a CASS researcher, is a woman known as the first doctor from the Oroqen ethnic group, which had existed as a hunting people of primitive society decades ago.

"As a group even without a writing system, the Oroqen people had suffered a lot. They didn't have decent education before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949," said Liu. "But things are totally different today."

Local governments have helped residents of Liu's village carry out a series of education programs and sent technicians out there spreading planting, processing and other skills. "Some of our local products are sold quite well in domestic markets," said Liu.

Huang Xing, a professor on ethnicity attributes the latest development of some ethnic groups mainly to government policies that are growing more concrete and scientific and the country's long-standing concept of "all ethnic groups belong to one family", which has penetrated through every corner of Chinese society.

According to the Chinese tradition, members of a family should help each other and share comforts and hardships.

"The concept has not only helped the nation to maintain harmonious relations among different ethnic groups but will also ensure the country's ambitious poverty elimination campaign successful in the end," said Huang.

According to the commission, the Chinese government is considering introducing more helpful and practical measures to help solve economic, social, culture, education and other problems the 22 ethnic groups are facing.

"We are very confident that the country will render them a rich and happy life finally," it said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 27, 2005)

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