Language and vocational training provide Xinjiang with long-term poverty relief

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/11 18:58:39

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Poverty reduction in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was highlighted during the ongoing annual sessions of the 13th National People's Congress and the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Putonghua and vocational training as poverty reduction measures have helped address career disadvantages among ethnic minorities in Xinjiang by providing more opportunities to embrace economic development. These efforts help lift the barriers between ethnic groups and prevent marginalization, a hotbed for breeding terrorism and extremism.

The reality in Xinjiang is that a large percentage of those from ethnic minority groups can speak very limited Putonghua. According to data from the Xinjiang regional government, ethnic minority groups make up over 60 percent of the region's entire population. 

Using the language and writing of their ethnic groups has preserved diverse cultures. However, weak language ability of using Putonghua, China's official language, has prevented them from accessing higher education and better job opportunities. 

Since Putonghua is China's official language in almost every work, business and school environment, many ethnic minority students from Xinjiang have to attend language school to learn Putonghua before they can be admitted to the university in other regions across the country. 

Without Putonghua language abilities, communication within the job market can be troublesome. In promoting Putonghua, their employment opportunities are increased.

The same efforts are true with vocational education and training which have improved local living standards. The training is not only aimed at ethnic minority groups but part of poverty relief measures in Xinjiang and is open to everyone. The efforts provide further equal footing to ethnic minority groups. Despite favorable policies for ethnic minority groups in recent years, many still live in poverty, especially in southern Xinjiang. Teaching them vocational skills will help poverty alleviation efforts in the long run.

Xinjiang is a crucial region for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Vocational education and training allows the local labor force to be prepared for economic opportunities generated by the BRI. Through this way, the region can use its location as an advantage. 

For example, Xinjiang Teacher's College, or Xinjiang Education Institute, has launched a cross-border e-commerce project with tech giant Alibaba Group, offering training in cross-border e-commerce for students and the public. The project has already helped ethnic minority students majoring in Russian to secure jobs. 

Promoting Putonghua and vocational training in Xinjiang is a far-reaching measure aimed at preventing the marginalization of ethnic minority groups. Religious extremism and terrorism are often the results of marginalization and isolation in mainstream society. 

If members of ethnic minority groups feel left out of the country's flourishing and prosperous economic development, their resentment could lead to extremism and terrorism which jeopardizes public security and stability. Aside from regional regulations aimed at eliminating extremism from the local government, promoting Putonghua and vocational training will likely eradicate problems at their source.

Social stability and economic development are what the people in Xinjiang have always wanted. Eliminating extremism and anti-terrorism efforts have created a better business and social environment. Data from the Urumqi Customs has shown that international trade in Xinjiang is burgeoning. The region's export and import volume reached $2 billion in January, a 7 percent jump year-on-year. 

Actively trading with countries and regions in Central Asia and Russia, Xinjiang's location has gained importance. In January, the region saw 7.8 percent increase in trade with Kazakhstan and 41.2 percent increase in trade with Russia. Locals, regardless of which ethnic group they belong to, can seize new opportunities as long as they have the right skills. 

The Western media has painted Putonghua and vocational training in Xinjiang in a bad light by downplaying and even turning a blind eye to the positive outcomes. However, the benefits these skills have had on local economic development, social stability and poverty reduction are real. Some 537,000 people in Xinjiang were lifted out of poverty last year. The local government has set the goal at 606,100 for 2019.

The article was compiled from an interview with Xu Ruike, faculty member of the School of English and International Studies of Beijing Foreign Studies University, who worked in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region under the pairing assistance program.


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