Qiao Long and by Hai Nan | Radio Free Asia
Hundreds of ethnic Mongolian herders in Inner Mongolia’s Heshigten banner have protested repeatedly in recent days over the nonpayment of subsidies after they were persuaded to stop grazing their animals as part of a regionwide ecological strategy.
With banners urging the government “Pay out our grazing ban subsidies!” around 200 herders gathered outside government offices in nearby Chifeng city on Monday and Tuesday with a petition calling on the government to pay out agreed compensation for loss of their traditional livelihoods.
But video and photos of the protest sent to RFA by eyewitnesses showed the protesters being intercepted by police as they tried to enter the building to talk with officials.
“We are asking the government to pay up the pasture subsidies for 2016,” one of the herders told RFA.
“The government in Inner Mongolia has been implementing a policy of grazing prohibition, under which it promised to subsidize herding communities to ensure their livelihoods,” he said.
“But when it came down to it, the government has broken that commitment, in violation of their own policies,” the herder said.
A second herder said the government appears to be dragging its feet.
“At 7:00 p.m. on Monday evening, the officials promised they would have a dialogue with the herders, and they promised the subsidies would be paid out soon, but most people still haven’t received theirs,” the second herder said.
A third herder said on Tuesday that the government had failed to meet with and address herders’ concerns, so they continued their protest the following day.
“We went again today to petition, because we didn’t get the answers we were looking for yesterday,” the third herder said. “More than 100 people went, and there are still fifty or sixty others en route.”
He said the herders were promised 8,000 yuan (U.S. $1,160) per mu (.164 acre) of ungrazed grassland, annually.
“That went up this year, but I don’t know by how much,” he said.
He said the government had previously issued the subsidies annually, and had given no explanation for the failure to pay last year.
Enhebatu Togochog, director of the U.S.-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC), said the government had made vague promises to resolve the issue, which herders didn’t believe.
“The government keeps telling them every time they protest, that they will sort this problem out, but they never have,” he said. “So, the herders are still protesting.”
Calls to the Heshigten banner government, the administrative equivalent of a county, rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
Ethnic Mongolian rights activist Hada said nonpayment of such compensation by local governments is very common.
“This kind of thing happens everywhere in Inner Mongolia, and it is legitimate for the herders to demand payment,” he said.
“[So is] their resistance to the encroachment on their grazing lands by large numbers of [majority] Han Chinese, to mine and destroy the grasslands,” he said.
Meanwhile, Germany-based ethnic Mongolia Xi Haiming accused the ruling Chinese Communist Party of stripping away the land rights of indigenous Mongolians in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
“They lie and cheat, left right and center,” Xi said. “They make promises about grassland subsidies, but then when the time comes, they don’t pay up. Then, when the herders go and complain that the subsidies haven’t arrived, they detain them.”
“There are no more herds of cattle or flocks of sheep any more, and now they are plundering the underground resources,” Xi said. “Inner Mongolia has become a wasteland.”