BEIJING, May 31 (Reuters) - China warned unidentified foreign conspirators on Tuesday that their attempts to sow unrest in Inner Mongolia were doomed to fail, after rare protests by ethnic Mongolians in the vast region sparked by the hit-and-run death of a herder.
People overseas who were trying to use the “incident to cause trouble ... have an ulterior motive”, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular briefing.
“As for some people overseas who try to play up this issue ... I think their attempts will not succeed,” she added, without elaborating on who those people might be.
Ethnic Mongolians angered by the death of a herder, killed when struck by a coal truck in China’s biggest coal producing region, have taken to the streets across Inner Mongolia in recent days. [ID:nL3E7GU14L].
The government subsequently said it had arrested two Han Chinese for homicide, but demonstrators have broadened their demands to call for greater respect of the rights and traditions of the country’s Mongolians. [ID:nL3E7GT01U]
The Inner Mongolia government would aim to address the grievances of ethnic Mongolians, Jiang said.
“I understand that the local authorities attach great importance to the incident and will deal with it in accordance with the law,” she said. “As for the reasonable claims by the people, the local authorities will respond positively to them.”
Inner Mongolia is China’s biggest coal producing region and the protests come as severe power shortages loom ahead of the summer peak energy season.
But infrastructure is poor and the race by truck drivers, drawn by high margins, to transport coal to the country’s east has been accompanied by a spate of accidents.
The Inner Mongolia government told agencies to address safety and environmental concerns related to the mining industry, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.
“The local government will strive to handle the relationship between environmental protection and economic development and will take all the necessary measures to safeguard the fundamental interests of people of all ethnic groups,” Jiang said.
She would not comment though on whether any of the protesters had been arrested or killed, saying those questions should be referred to the Inner Mongolia government.
Inner Mongolia was the first autonomous region set up by the Communist Party and was meant to serve as a model for Tibet and Xinjiang in offering a high degree of self-government. [ID:nL3E7GS00Z]
But a flood of migration by majority Han Chinese in the years following the 1949 revolution has rapidly diluted the Mongolian population.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up less than 20 percent of the roughly 24 million population of Inner Mongolia, have complained that their traditional grazing lands have been ruined by mining and desertification, and that the government has tried to force them to settle in permanent houses. (Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Sabrina Mao, Editing by Ben Blanchard and Robert Birsel)