IV. Upholding and Improving Regional Ethnic Autonomy
Regional ethnic autonomy is a basic policy China adopts to handle problems among its ethnic groups and a fundamental political system for this country.
China's regional ethnic autonomy means that under the unified leadership of the state, regional autonomy is exercised and organs of self-government are established in areas where various ethnic minorities live in compact communities.
The establishment of an autonomous area is determined by the relationships among its local ethnic groups, the economic development of the locality, and its historical background. At present, in the light of the size of population and areas where ethnic minorities inhabit, ethnic autonomous areas are divided into three levels, namely, autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties — equivalent to the province, city with districts and county, respectively. People's congresses and people's governments of autonomous areas are organs of self-government, as well as the country's local power organs, implementing state laws and policies in accordance with local conditions. Regional ethnic autonomy is a self-government system under the unified leadership of the state. Every ethnic autonomous area is an inseparable part of the country. Organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas must follow the leadership of the central government.
The implementation of regional ethnic autonomy is an inevitable choice for China when it takes into account history, national conditions and the will of the people. First, as far as history and traditions are concerned, the long-term existence of a unified multi-ethnic country is the historical background for implementing regional ethnic autonomy. Second, as far as ethnic relationships are concerned, the Chinese people consist of multi-ethnic groups, and the close and extensive ties among them are the economic and cultural base for the implementation of regional ethnic autonomy. Third, as far as the distribution of ethnic groups are concerned, the reality that some ethnic groups live together over vast areas while others live in individual concentrated communities in small areas, and the natural, economic and cultural diversity and supplementation are the actual conditions for enacting the system of regional ethnic autonomy.
The implementation of regional ethnic autonomy is beneficial to combining the country's centralism and unification with the freedom and equality of ethnic groups, integrating state laws and policies with actual conditions and specific circumstances of ethnic autonomous areas, uniting the goal of building a wealthy, democratic, civilized and harmonious country with the unity, progress, prosperity and development of ethnic peoples, and linking ethnic peoples' love for the motherland with their love for their ethnic group. In the unified big family, China's various ethnic groups live together in peace, work together with one heart and mind and develop together in a harmonious manner, while giving full rein to their respective strengths and advantages.
Over many years, the Chinese government has all along upheld regional ethnic autonomy, constantly improved it as the time becomes ripe, making remarkable achievements in this regared.
Ethnic autonomous areas have been established across the country. As early as 1947 before the founding of the People's Republic of China, under the leadership of the CPC, the country's first provincial-level ethnic autonomous region — the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region — was established. After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, in accordance with stipulations in the Constitution and relevant laws, the Chinese government began to introduce the system of regional autonomy in minority areas. In October 1955, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was established; in March 1958, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was established; in October 1958, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region was established; and in September 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was established. By the end of 2008, China had in total 155 ethnic autonomous areas. Of these, there were five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties (banners). According to statistics revealed in the fifth national census, conducted in 2000, of the country's 55 ethnic minorities, 44 had their own autonomous areas. The population of ethnic minorities practicing regional autonomy accounted for 71 percent of the total population of ethnic minorities, and the area where such regional autonomy was practiced accounted for 64 percent of the entire territory of China. In addition, China had established 1,100 ethnic townships, as a supplement to the system of regional ethnic autonomy.
The legal system of regional ethnic autonomy is being constantly improved. The Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), passed by the CPPCC in 1949, actually served as a provisional constitution. It defined the system of regional ethnic autonomy as a basic policy of New China. In 1952, the Central People's Government issued the Program for the Implementation of Regional Ethnic Autonomy, which included clear provisions on such important issues as the establishment of ethnic autonomous areas and the composition of organs of self-government, as well as the right of self-government for such organs. In 1954, the Constitution adopted by the NPC institutionalized the system in the form of basic law, and has ever since adhered to this system. In 1984, on the basis of summing up the experience of practicing regional ethnic autonomy, the Second Meeting of the Sixth NPC adopted the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy. As a result, the country's system of regional ethnic autonomy has become more complete in terms of policy, system and law. The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy is the basic law in the implementation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. It defines the relationship between the central government and the ethnic autonomous areas, as well as the relationship among different ethnic groups in ethnic autonomous areas. Its legal effect is not limited to ethnic autonomous areas only; every individual in China and all state organs must abide by and implement this law. In 2001, in consideration of actual conditions when the socialist market economy was established, the Standing Committee of the NPC made revisions to the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy. The Provisions of the State Council on Implementation of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, issued by the State Council in 2005, define the duties of governments at higher levels to support and help the organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas.
Ethnic autonomous areas effectively exercise the right of self-government. The self-government organs in ethnic autonomous areas are the people's congresses and people's governments of autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. These organs have the following rights under the law:
— Independent management of the ethnic group's internal affairs in its autonomous area. People of various ethnic origins in autonomous areas are entitled to vote and stand for election, as provided for in the Constitution and other laws, and, by electing deputies to the people's congresses at various levels and establishing self-government organs, exercise their democratic rights to manage the internal affairs of their own ethnic groups and their autonomous areas. The chairmen and vice chairmen of the standing committees of the people's congresses of all 155 ethnic autonomous areas in China are citizens of the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy in the areas concerned. The heads of all autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties are all citizens of the ethnic groups exercising regional autonomy in the areas concerned. Other members of the people's governments of the autonomous areas include an appropriate number of members of the ethnic group(s) exercising regional autonomy as well as members of other ethnic minorities. The functionaries of the working departments subsidiary to the organs of self-government are composed in a similar fashion.
— Enjoyment of the right to formulate autonomous regulations and separate regulations. The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy stipulates that, besides enjoying the same rights as other local state organs, people's congresses in autonomous areas have the right to enact autonomous regulations and separate regulations in the light of the political, economic and cultural characteristics of the ethnic group or ethnic groups in the areas concerned. The Legislation Law of the People's Republic of China stipulates that the autonomous regulations and separate regulations may contain provisions which have been adapted on the basis of existing laws or administrative regulations to suit the particular conditions of the ethnic group concerned. By the end of 2008, the ethnic autonomous areas had formulated 637 autonomous regulations and separate regulations, as well as adapted or supplemented regulations to relevant laws. In the light of the particular situation in each area, the ethnic autonomous areas have adapted related provisions in several laws, including the Marriage Law, Inheritance Law, Election Law, Land Law and Grassland Law, or provided supplementary regulations to such laws.
— Independent arrangement, management and development of economic construction. Organs of self-government of autonomous areas are entitled to, in accordance with legal provisions and the characteristics of local economic development, rationally adjust the relations of production and economic structure of the said areas, manage enterprises, public institutions under their jurisdiction, manage and protect their local natural resources in accordance with the law, and manage local finance. The self-government organs of all ethnic autonomous areas formulate their own plans and measures for economic and social development, and arrange their own infrastructure projects by following the guidance of the overall state plan for national economic and social development, while at the same time taking into consideration local conditions. Ethnic autonomous areas may, in accordance with the relevant state provisions, open ports for foreign trade after obtaining approval from the State Council. Ethnic autonomous areas may enjoy state preferential policy treatment as regards foreign trade.
— Independent development of cultural and social undertakings. The self-government organs of ethnic autonomous areas may determine their educational plans, establishment of schools, educational system, forms by which schools are run, curricula and methods of enrollment, in accordance with the principles concerning education and legal provisions of the state. The self-government organs of ethnic autonomous areas may independently develop cultural undertakings with ethnic characteristics, including literature, art, news, publishing, radio and TV broadcasting, and movies. They may organize relevant entities to collect, edit, translate and publish books related to the history and culture of the ethnic groups; to protect scenic spots, historical sites, valuable cultural relics and other important aspects of the local cultural heritage; and to inherit and carry forward the traditional culture of ethnic groups.