The conflict between Inner Mongolia’s indigenous herders and its Han Chinese mining community spans five decades, but recent events confirm it may continue indefinitely. Last month, a Mongolian herder known as Mergen was trying to prevent a mining convoy from crossing the fenced prairies of Xiwu when, his people allege, a Chinese coal-truck driver ran him over on purpose. Enraged, and further angered by government-backed mining operations on their land, the herding population erupted with protests, the largest since 1991, in over three cities.
Beijing insists that the mining, and fencing off of herding territory, is essential for development and environmental protection (they made no mention of Mongolia’s status as China’s leading producer of coal). The herders, on the other hand, say their rights have been unfairly reduced, and that the mining is actually poisoning the environment. Mindful of the unrest, authorities swiftly sentenced the Chinese truck driver to death last week, but tensions continue to simmer.