The rights of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities have long enjoyed strong legal recognition in China. At the beginning of the People’s Republic of China, the First Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference guaranteed the rights of ethnic minorities living within the state borders. The constitution of China further guaranteed that all ethnic minorities, in addition to equal political and economic rights, were given freedom of religious belief, the right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages as well as the freedom to preserve – or change – their cultural traditions and customs. These rights have been recently reconfirmed in the Law on Regional National Autonomy (2001) and in the 11th Five Year Plan on the Development of Public Affairs for Ethnic Minorities which forms part of China’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2007).
Today, ethnic minorities comprise 8.5% of the national population – a population of nearly 106 million. China’s ethnic minorities have made definite progress in overall socioeconomic and political development since 1949. Nonetheless, they still constitute nearly 51.2% of the country’s poor; have lower levels of education, and poorer health.
China is strongly committed to lifting its minorities out of poverty, and is investing substantial domestic resources to this end. China has also committed itself to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and the sustainable and harmonious Xiaokang Society by 2020. This Joint Programme proposes specifically to address MDGs 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. It will do this through a project framework which has two primary aims:
- To support China in designing and implementing policies that promote the rights of its ethnic minority groups in four provinces.
- To empower ethnic minority groups in these four provinces to strengthen and manage their cultural resources, and thereby, benefit from culture-based economic development.
These two primary aims address six issues, namely:
- Strengthening government on all levels which is sensitive to needs of ethnic minorities and has stronger awareness of the importance – economic and otherwise – of cultural diversity;
- Promoting and making possible quality and culturally sensitive education for ethnic minority children;
- Supporting the creation of policy promoting linguistically and culturally appropriate MCH care;
- Fostering improved access to the labour market;
- Strengthening the local capacity of the ethnic minorities for protecting and utilizing their cultural resources; and
- Promoting cultural-based economic growth, including tourism.