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Mongolians protest against China’s plan to introduce Mandarin-only classes at schools in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, at Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, on Sept. 15. (Photo by Byambasuren BYAMBA-OCHIR/AFP/Getty Images)

Snapshots of China

China’s crackdowns: From Tibet to Inner Mongolia

To understand what’s happening to ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, look to Tibet

Teachers, students, and parents staged rare protests earlier this month in Inner Mongolia as the government began requiring schools to teach key subjects in Mandarin rather than the Mongolian language. Students will begin taking Chinese language classes one grade earlier and must use new Chinese textbooks for language and literature, morality and law, and history classes. 

Fearful the abrupt changes would erode their language and culture, thousands of ethnic Mongols signed online petitions against the new bilingual programs. Students walked out of class, parents pulled their children out of schools, and demonstrators held signs written in flowing Mongolian script outside government buildings and schools. 

In response, authorities arrested thousands of protesters and petition-signers, and dispatched heavily armed riot police to protest locations. Officials noted that if parents continued to keep their kids out of school, they would lose their jobs, government subsidies, and the ability to take out bank loans. High school students would be expelled and blocked from taking college entrance exams. 

Police went door to door forcing Mongols to sign pledges not to oppose the education program. They detained those who didn’t comply and placed them under police surveillance, according to the Los Angeles Times. Public security bureaus published names and images of protesters, accusing them of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” a charge that could lead to five years in prison. 

The aggressive move to assimilate Mongols is reminiscent of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has treated Tibetans and Uighurs in Xinjiang—the CCP also replaced their minority language education with Mandarin in the past few decades. While Tibet and Xinjiang have long been considered restive regions, Mongols are seen as the “model minority” living in peace with the growing number of Han Chinese in the region. 

The crackdown on Uighur culture and language has spread to what international observers call a genocide: The Chinese government has thrown more than a million Uighurs into reeducation camps, pressed them into forced labor, and implemented a campaign of depopulation through forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and even infanticide. The CCP used many of the tactics now seen in Xinjiang first in Tibet: Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who oversaw the oppression in Xinjiang, was previously the party secretary in Tibet. 

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Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP

Journalists attend a news conference in Beijing, China, on May 20, 2020. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)

Snapshots of China

The disappearing China correspondents

Beijing keeps expelling foreign journalists as relations with the West sour

On Monday, the last two credentialed Australian journalists in China boarded a flight to Sydney after a five-day diplomatic standoff. The expulsion occurred as relations between Australia and China have deteriorated and the Chinese government continues its crusade to rid the country of foreign reporters.

Police officers visited both Bill Birtles of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Beijing and Mike Smith of The Australia Financial Review in Shanghai late on Sept. 2. The officers said they wanted to interrogate them about their reporting on Cheng Lei, an Australian who worked for China’s CGTN television station. Detained in August, Cheng is being kept under “residential surveillance” in an unknown location, where she is unable to contact family or lawyers and torture is common.

Diplomats had warned Birtles and Smith earlier last week that they should leave China, according to ABC, and they both planned to fly out the morning of Sept. 3. But Chinese officers showed up in the middle of the night, banning them from leaving and informing them they needed to come in for questioning. After the police visit, Birtles hid in the Australian Embassy in Beijing for the next few days while Smith went to the Australian Consulate in Shanghai. 

Chinese officials continued to ask for interviews with the reporters, which they refused over concerns for their safety. After negotiations, Australian officials received confirmation that Birtles and Smith could leave the country if they agreed to a one-hour interview with Chinese officials. On Sunday, Australian ambassador Graham Fletcher accompanied Birtles as Chinese authorities interviewed him. ABC reported the authorities did not ask questions about his reporting or conduct in China.

“It’s nice to be home but deeply disappointing to leave China under such abrupt circumstances,” Birtles tweeted Tuesday after returning to Australia. “It’s been a big part of my life & the past week was surreal.”

Australia-China relations have tanked as Australia has taken a stronger stance toward China’s aggression, calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, cracking down on Chinese interference, and sending a strong message against China for limiting freedoms in Hong Kong. In response, China started a trade war, targeting Australian beef, barley, and wine. 

The expulsion of Birtles and Smith follows a trend of China kicking out foreign reporters: In the first half of 2020, the Chinese government expelled 17 journalists, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China. It began in February when China kicked out three Wall Street Journal reporters in a tit-for-tat measure after the United States designated five Chinese media outlets as foreign entities. The label requires the news organizations to send the U.S. government a list of their employees and real estate holdings. The Wall Street Journal was specifically targeted after it published an op-ed titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”

Then in March, China expelled all U.S. journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post after the State Department limited the number of non-Americans that the five Chinese state-run media operating in the United States could hire. Another four media groups were named foreign entities in June. 

Most recently, the Chinese government has stopped renewing press credentials for U.S. news organizations in China, which will affect reporters for CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and Getty Images. Foreign Ministry officials told reporters their press renewals depended on whether the United States decided to renew the press credentials of Chinese journalists at state-run news organizations in the U.S. In May, all Chinese journalists in the United States were given 90-day work visas, which expired in August. New regulations allowed them another 90-day extension that lasts until early November. The U.S. reporters were also told they could stay in China until November.

The expulsion of reporters in China makes it more and more difficult to find out what is happening on the ground in China. The Chinese government tightly controls its own press, and the dwindling number of foreign reporters find more and more areas off-limits. Reporting in Xinjiang, where more than a million Uighurs are kept in reeducation camps, has led to police surveillance, officials barring interviews, and reporters detained and sent away.

When protests in Inner Mongolia began in late August over a new policy that would transition half of the region’s classes from the Mongolian language to Mandarin, Los Angeles Times Beijing Bureau chief Alice Su went to report on it. She visited a school in the capital of Hohhot and interviewed parents as police surrounded the campus to prevent any more protests. 

In the article, she describes being surrounded by plainclothes cops, placed into a police car, and taken to a police station where officers interrogated her. An officer grabbed her throat and pushed her into a cell. After a four-hour detention, government officials accompanied her to a train headed back to Beijing. 

Ian Johnson, a New York Times reporter who was kicked out in March after spending more than a dozen years reporting in China, noted that the departure of newspapers like the Times and the Journal means the world will no longer have access to in-depth reporting on important issues, such as the treatment of Uighurs or the finances of top Chinese leaders. 

The few reporters who remain will hardly have the resources for such projects,” Johnson wrote in an op-ed, “meaning that outsiders’ understanding of China will be increasingly limited to daily news.”

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AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Dong Yumei, left, harvests vegetables for volunteers in the Huangpi district of Wuhan in central China's Hubei province in April. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Snapshots of China

A food crisis in China?

Severe flooding, insect infestation, and COVID-19 may be contributing to a food shortage

Outside the popular Hunan chain Chuiyan Fried Beef in Changsha, restaurant owners set up two scales and asked patrons to weigh themselves before entering. After entering their weight and personal information into an app, the customers received the restaurant’s suggested menu items: for women weighing under 88 pounds, a beef dish and fish head; for a man weighing more than 175 pounds, braised pork belly, according to CNN.

As news spread of the restaurant’s gimmick online, netizens accused the chain of fat-shaming.

Chuiyan Fried Beef apologized, noting the weighing in was voluntary, and the restaurant was promoting a nationwide government campaign to cut down on food waste.

Other restaurants have also begun their own initiatives: In Wuhan, the Wuhan Catering Industry Association called on restaurants to restrict the number of dishes to “N-1,” or one less than the number of diners in a group. Typically in China, people share food family style. During banquets, they pile dish after dish onto a central lazy Susan. Other restaurants have promised to serve smaller portion sizes, while state media has criticized livestreamed binge eating, a trend that began in South Korea. Livestreaming platforms said they would ban users who waste food on their broadcasts.  

The impetus of these moves is a speech President Xi Jinping made Aug. 11 calling for the country to stop wasting food—a problem he called “shocking and distressing”—in order to persevere the country’s food resources. “Despite several years of bumper harvests, China needs to maintain a crisis mentality for food security, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Xi said. A month earlier Xi inspected farms in Jilin province, urging officials to ensure grain-supply security.

The focus on food waste brings to mind similar instructions by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1959 at the beginning of the Great Famine, in which tens of millions of people starved to death. Some believe China may be facing a food crisis as it deals with the fallout of the pandemic, massive floods, and insect infestations. But observers don’t know its severity since the government has not released much information outside of rosy outlooks.

Several indicators reveal the looming problem facing China. In recent months, heavy flooding has inundated large areas of southern China and caused the 3,900-mile-long Yangtze River and its tributaries to rise to dangerous levels. While heavy rains are typical in the summer, this year’s rainfall has far exceeded the norm, causing the worst flooding at the Yangtze in four decades. So far, the deluge has destroyed 13 million acres of farmland, affected 63 million people, and caused nearly $26 billion in economic damage.

For the first time since 1949, floodwaters rose over the toes of the Leshan Giant Buddha in southwestern Sichuan province, a 1,200-year-old world heritage site that stands 233 feet tall. Water inflows to the Three Gorges Dam are also expected to reach its highest levels since the dam started holding water in 2003, according to China’s Ministry of Water Resources. 

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