Mongolia might be Xi’s next target
Taipei Times 2020.9.25
By Paul Lin 林保華
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be
taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian.
What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from
sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is
attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have
the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia?
The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia
Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and
junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with
Chinese-language textbooks, as opposed to starting in the second grade,
as was previously the case.
To appease the strong pushback, a second announcement was made, saying
that no further changes would be introduced.
However, the decision to stop using Mongolian to teach first-grade
elementary-school children had already set the cat among the pigeons,
and people were worried that the changes were the thin end of the
wedge, with others likely to follow.
One of the more disingenuous answers to criticism was that “the design
of the teaching materials is at the discretion of the state.” The
Bureau also said that the introduction of unified textbooks was
according to a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy to reinforce the
adoption of a common writing system in ethnic minority regions.
This was reminiscent of the mayor of Wuhan passing the buck to the
central authorities for the COVID-19 pandemic, absolving himself of
The Inner Mongolia Incident during the Cultural Revolution left tens of
thousands of people dead, or mutilated and disabled. The incident also
left permanent psychological scars on the Inner Mongolian public, and
the latest initiative has touched a real nerve.
In the past few weeks, 300,000 students have taken to the streets,
joined by parents, public officials, and employees of Inner Mongolia
Radio and Television. While several mid-level CCP cadres were sacked
because of their opposition to the new policy, some avid support for
protesters came from public officials. Presumably, the demonstrations
also enjoyed a degree of tacit approval from more senior figures.
Former Inner Mongolian communist leader Ulanhu (烏蘭夫), who served as
Chinese vice premier from 1983 to 1988, had joined the CCP in 1925.
Inner Mongolia Chairwoman Bu Xiaolin (布小林) is his granddaughter.
Inner Mongolia CCP Secretary Shi Taifeng (石泰峰) is an academic who
has served as vice president of the CCP’s Central Party School in
Xi trusts neither Bu nor Shi, and on Aug. 29 dispatched Chinese
Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi (趙克志) to the region to
suppress the protests with armored vehicles and bounties for informants
that have led to the detention of 130 protesters.
Xi’s “national rejuvenation” is hitting walls all over, and he dare
not attack Taiwan while it is being offered military support by the US.
In Xi’s mind, Mongolia is a soft target. Inner Mongolia has a
population of about 6 million, while Mongolia only has 3 million.
For Xi, these statistics make it an attractive candidate for
annexation. As part of his plan to recover territory previously lost,
he can claim that Mongol Empire founder Genghis Khan was also a
honorary Chinese, and his territory is thus “an inalienable part of
The topography of landlocked Mongolia would make it difficult for the
US to intervene militarily. The US would also have to deal with being
caught in between Russia and China if it became embroiled there.
Mongolian independence was bought with money and weapons from Republic
of China (ROC) founder Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) and the Soviet Union.
Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) did not dare thrust his oar into the
situation, but the Chinese communists, including Mao Zedong (毛澤東)
himself, were consistently supportive.
On Feb. 27, Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga traveled to
Beijing, disregarding the risk of catching COVID-19, to present 30,000
Mongolian sheep to Xi. After Battulga’s return, and his mandatory 14
day quarantine, the Mongolian government passed a law stipulating that
the country would within five years reinstate the use of the
traditional Mongolian script in its schools, replacing the Cyrillic
writing system used during the Soviet era.
Clearly, Battulga had visited China to show good intent, but must have
been surprised to see Xi so callously moving forward to abolish the use
of the Mongolian language in Inner Mongolia.
Beijing’s lack of good faith has moved Mongolians to take the streets
of Ulan Bator, despite calls for caution on the matter by the Mongolian
government, which has not made an official statement on its curricula
It is cautious because Beijing has claimed that protests in Inner
Mongolia have been sparked by interference from abroad — a possible
pretext for military intervention in Mongolia.
While Russia has supported Mongolia in the past, this latest move at “
de-Russification” might mean that Mongolia will not necessarily be
able to rely on support from Moscow.
Anyone concerned about regional stability should watch closely how this
situation develops. In Taiwan, where does the Chinese Nationalist Party
(KMT), which still adheres to “begonia China” — the shape of the
historic pre-World War II China, prior to Mongolian independence —
stand on this issue? Does the KMT agree with Xi?
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper