While speaking on Item 14, I wish to give an account of the measures taken by the Chinese Government to promote and protect the rights of its ethnic minorities.
China is a unified, multi-ethnic country with a time-honored history. There are 55 ethnic minority groups totaling over 106 million in population, or 8.41% of the national population. While guaranteeing their equal rights in political, economic, religious and cultural fields, the Chinese Government grants special and preferential policies to ethnic minorities. Over the past 50 years or more, the areas inhabited by ethnic minorities have registered fast economic growth and marked significant enhancement in the living standards and rapid development of such social infrastructure as culture and education and growing number of professionals of minority origin. China's current policy towards its ethnic minorities is the most successful one in its history of several thousand years.
Most of China's ethnic minorities concentrate in its mid-west regions. Out of 55 ethnic minorities, 43 live in these regions. Due to historical and geographical constraints and impact, some of the regions are at a low level of socio-economic development. The Chinese Government, through reviewing its past policy towards ethnic minorities and by taking into account the new features in the development of ethnic minority regions, has formulated, at the turn of the century, a new development strategy for its western regions aimed at the comprehensive development of the ethnic minority regions.
I. Seize the opportunity of the Western Region Development Strategy to promote the economic takeoff in the ethnic minority regions.
A major strategic component of China's vision of development in the 21st century is the large-scale development of its western regions, which offers a rare opportunity of development for the ethnic minorities there. According to this strategy, the Government will make heavy investments in the infrastructure and basic industries of the western regions. A large number of infrastructure projects of transport, energy, communications and water conservancy are under implementation in western China. The Chinese Government will vigorously develop science and technology, culture and education; increase investment in science and technology to improve the research and development capabilities; and train professionals of minority origin in various fields. The Chinese Government will also try to improve the eco-system by gradually constructing a secure and green eco-shelter in the west region. The past year witnessed continued economic growth in the ethnic minorities regions. GNP there registered a growth of 8.5%, which continued to be higher than the national average. Tibet, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and Guizhou were among the top in terms of increase in fiscal revenues. With the large-scale development of China's western region, the gap between eastern and western regions in development levels will be gradually narrowed. The relations between nationalities will be more harmonious. Common prosperity and development will be further realized for all the nationalities in China.
II. Amend the Law on the Autonomy of Ethnic Minority Regions in order to provide legal guarantee for the western region development
In light of the urgent needs for socio-economic development of the ethnic minorities and the minorities regions and based on the understanding of the practical problems encountered in the development of the autonomous ethnic minority areas, the Chinese legislature has made necessary amendments to the Law on the Autonomy of Ethnic Minority Regions. A number of new provisions have been added to the amended Law such as preferential policies in finance, fiscal matters, taxation and foreign trade, more financial allocation to ethnic minority regions, more infrastructure construction, greater effort in poverty alleviation and in environmental protection and expedited development of ethnic minority regions. The amendment has provided a legal guarantee for the implementation of various measures aimed at the development of the western China. It will surely promote positively the all-round development of the ethnic minorities regions in China.
III. Western Region Development Strategy will enable effective exercise by ethnic minorities of their autonomy and provide effective guarantee for their human rights and fundamental freedoms
China practices a system of autonomy for ethnic minority regions under which ethnic minorities fully exercise their right to participate on an equal footing in the management of the state and ethnic affairs. Their religious beliefs, customs, traditional culture and their right to use and develop their own languages are protected under the law. Through its Western Region Development Strategy, the Chinese Government has provided assistance and support to the ethnic minorities regions in terms of financial, technological and human resources, with a view to promoting their economic growth and social progress. These policies of the Government have won popular support from ethnic minorities. The late Chinese leader, DENG Xiaoping, once remarked that "The autonomy for the ethnic minority regions will be meaningless unless accompanied by their economic development". The protection of political, religious and cultural rights of the ethnic minorities through economic development on the one hand and the raising of their living standard and modernization on the other are not exclusive with each other. Rather, they are mutually supplementing. Only when the economy of the ethnic minorities regions is developed will the minority people there be able to enjoy more and real rights and have better material means to develop their religion, culture and tradition. A nation and a culture can only make progress through development and transformation. Conservatism and self-isolation are not the right approach to the survival of a nation or a culture. Only with a developed economy and higher living standard will the ethnic minority regions be better equipped to ensure the exercise of all their rights, preserve their religious beliefs and carry on their cultural traditions.
The Chinese Government attaches great importance to the protection of the minority rights. It has made unremitting efforts to this end and scored remarkable achievements. We have always held that States have the primary responsibility to promote and protect minority rights. Meanwhile, we are ready to work with the international community, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to contribute our efforts to the promotion and protection of the rights of the minority groups.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.