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As independent Mongolia explores its new-found freedom, political repression of fellow Mongolians continues to the south, in Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia. According to a top secret Communist Party report leaked to Andrew Higgins of The Independent newspaper, political change in the Soviet Union's former satellite, Mongolia, is seeping into China and stirring long-dormant or long-suppressed feelings of Mongolian nationalism.
The report, from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region party committee, details a police crackdown in May on two organisations accused of fomenting unrest among China's 4 million Mongolians. According to the human rights organisation Asia Watch, a Chinese official later confirmed that two men, members of the outlawed National Culture Society which has 26 other members, had been arrested in Inner Mongolia.
The secret Chinese report also links the two banned groups with "splittists" in Tibet and Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang), seeing signs of a broad anti-Chinese conspiracy involving His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the exiled Muslim Uighur leader Aysa, and other nationalist rebels.
Mongolia, which under Genghis Akhan (1162-1227) lay at the centre of the largest land empire in history, has been split since the seventeenth century, when China's Qing Empire gained control over what is now Inner Mongolia. Mongols in both areas revolted against the Chinese in 1911, but only Outer Mongolia was recognised as an independent state.
Just as Mongolians have never given up the dream of a pan-Mongolian nation, China has never fully accepted the fact that "Outer Mongolia" is beyond China's grasp. In 1936 Mao Tse-Tung said, "When the people's revolution has been victorious in China, Outer Mongolia will automatically become part of the Chinese federation on their own will." The famous map by Liu Pei-Hua, published in Peking in 1954, and depicting "Chinese territories taken by Imperialism" showed all of Mongolia (Inner and Outer) like all of Tibet as "Han" territories, without any local or native names.
But the other great Communist dictatorship, the Soviet Union, had different ideas and in the 1980s Mongolia was bristling with Soviet soldiers and weaponry. Half a million soviet soldiers faced 1,500,000 Chinese across the 2,500 mile border.
Like Tibet, both Mongolias have suffered greatly under their respective Communist regimes. Under Stalin in the 1930s Buddhism in the Mongolian People's Republic was violently repressed, over 700 monasteries were destroyed, their priceless art looted and taken to the Soviet Union, and about 17,000 top monks were executed. According to the latest statistics, roughly 150,000 people - one person in every family in Mongolia - were put to death during the Stalinist purges.
Thirty years later, similar scenes of brutality were enacted in Inner Mongolia under the banner of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Before the Cultural Revolution in Inner Mongolia official statements listed 650 Buddhist temple; afterwards only five remained. Monks and lamas were killed and thousands of lay Mongolians died or committed suicide.
The parallels with Tibet continue. Inner Mongolia was an early victim of China's aggressive population transfer policies. Mongolians are now outnumbered over nine to one by Chinese settlers, and it is virtually impossible to find Mongolians living in their traditional way practicing nomadic animal husbandry.
Moreover, as if the Chinese Communists were not enough of a problem for Mongolia and Tibet, the Kuomintang in Taiwan are still waiting in the wings, eager to buy influence and preaching a "return to the motherland" under their supposedly benevolent rule.
With considerable trepidation China has been watching the democratic changes in Mongolia since the overthrow in March 1990 of Soviet influence and the corresponding renaissance of Mongolian national pride.
Peking's sensitivity about separatist feelings in Inner Mongolia is highlighted by the report's "top secret" classification. Published on 11 May as "Internal Party Document No. 13", it was distributed to only a small number of senior party officials in Inner Mongolia and Peking. It names the two smashed nationalist groups as the Ethnic Culture Institute (elsewhere called the National Culture Society) and the Institute for Ethnic Modernisation (called by Asia Watch, the National Modernisation society). Leaders of both groups were arrested.
Hitherto China has only oblique references to the threat of Mongolian separatism. The report gives the first detailed account of action by Peking to crush an embryonic nationalist movement. The two groups are accused of trying to stir up resentment to boost Mongolian ethnic consciousness.
- Tibetan Bulletin: September-October 1991