“China’s reforms and opening up: Reflections on the condition of ethnic minorities and prospective lessons for Africa” Being a remark delivered at a round-table dialogue on the theme of “40 years of reform and opening up : Appraisals of China’s ethnic minorities social and economic well being,” holding in Abuja, Nigeria on the 15th of October, 2018.
At the Centre of the rapturous debate about re-structuring in Nigeria is the ethnic nationality question. And indeed, at the heart of political contestations in Africa, the ethnic nationality looms large. Since the ethnic nationality question is features prominently in the problems of instability, conflicts and even wars in Africa, it is sometimes deliberately played down in the hope that it will simply go away.
Even the youngest state in Africa, South Sudan, when many thought would have considerably absorbed the lessons of other African states and thread cautiously on the nationality question bungled it, and immediately sleep-walked into war resulting that more South Sudanese have been killed, displaced from their homes than the period of over fifty years of an on and off wars in the former Sudan.
For countries like Nigeria, many voices claim that because federalism is not fully and assiduously practiced, the ethnic nationality question would remain a recurring decimal. However, while the ethnic nationality questions remain a challenging, states without obvious problem of ethic nationality still find many other reasons to slip into conflicts and even war. Somalia readily comes to mind.
As China and African engage more robustly on several fronts, especially on the flagship of economic and development cooperation, comparing notes on other various aspects of their respective national lives with a view to draw relevant lesson can play important roles in consolidating the partnership.
China’s reform trajectories have built up huge national aggregates for the people. Without resolving the ethnic nationality question satisfactorily to all the Chinese ethnic nationality groups, including the minorities, the country would not have recorded the universally acclaimed success of her reforms and opening up in the past forty years.
The early recognition of the ethnic nationality question by the governing party, the Communist Party of China (CPC) even before the founding of modern China heralded an innovative and unique policy framework that turned what have been in many places tinder-box that ignites national crisis and instability into a powerful asset to grow and build a unified multiethnic nation.
As a multi-national unified state, modern China, according to the preamble of her constitution is “created jointly by the people of all nationalities” China has 56 ethnic nationality groups, the Han been the largest with more than 90% of the population, and the Choba ethnic nationality numbering less than three thousand peoples according to the data released by the China ethnic work year book in 2002.
Proclaiming that “Socialist relations of equality, Unity and mutual assistance have been established among the nationalities,” the preamble to the Chinese constitution that the struggle to safeguard the unity of the nationalities, it is necessary to combat big-nation Chauvinism, mainly Han Chauvinism and to combat local national chauvinism,” and unequivocally affirmed that “the State will do its utmost to promote the common prosperity of all the nationalities.”
The practice of regional autonomy of ethnic minorities has been at the China’s political system since the founding of modern China.
The policy means that under the country, unified leadership, and establishment of self-governments and exercise of autonomy in the management of local affairs constitutes the cornerstone of regional autonomy of ethnic minorities. This policy which came into existence even before the new China was founded, led to the creation in 1947 of the first ethnic autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. There are currently about 155 ethnic autonomous areas or regions in China, including 5 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties. In fact, among China’s 55 ethnic minorities, about 44 have realized regional autonomy with self-governing institutions.
In contemporary China, the system of ethnic regional autonomy has given practical effect to the realization of common prosperity through the joint efforts of all the nationalities.
Given a considerably satisfied framework of ethnic nationality issue in China, the consensus generated has fueled seedy and inclusive national development, transforming China’s minority areas.
The autonomous region of Tibet, the better known of China’s regional ethnic minority has chalked unprecedented development from her peaceful liberation in 1957 from centuries of serfdom, up to her regional autonomy status in 1965 to date, Tibet has made huge leap in development transforming radically to modernity, with the people enjoying localized and participatory self-governing institutions.
The reform and opening up, brought real momentum to the overall development of the country but have had a thoroughly transformational change to ethnic minority areas.
As China’s experience has shown, innovative and creative policy can bring a lasting and meaningful solution to any challenge of national construction and modernization as far as such solution, developed from special national condition and existing realities.
As a Marxist revolutionary party, the communist party of China blazed a trail in contributing original ideas to the socialist solutions to one of the enduring questions that have confronted all revolutionary movements in Africa. While China’s regional autonomy of ethnic minorities as a core practice of her political process and took root and is currently working in the context of China’s specific national condition and experience, it provide lessons for innovative and imaginative solutions to the lingering challenge of the ethnic nationality questions in Africa.
Extreme federalization or even confederation as many people have advocated is fraught with numerous challenge as the case of Ethiopia federation has shown.
The common prosperity of all ethnic nationality groups in China, especially its 55 ethnic minorities demonstrated the viability of original and innovative system of social construction and political organization.
Political institutions picked up from the shelves have limited viability and stands the risks of been unable to inspire, motivate and rally the people in defence of collective heritage and in pursuit of common goals. Shackled ethnic nationalities whether major or minor are very unlikely to be enthusiastic about project of national development let alone been mobilized to support accomplishment.
The vast array of China’s political system built on consultation, cooperation and consensus is enabling a socialist modernization drive whose impact is not only in the growing prosperity of the Chinese people of all ethnic nationalities but to the contribution to humanity’s wellbeing.
As Africa’s sharing of experience, especially in the important field of the management of ethnic nationality question, China can offer more than bread but her creative spirit and unyielding endeavour in finding unique solutions to complex questions.
Thank you for attention.
Mr. Charles Onunaiju
Centre for China Studies, (CCS)