As the 2012 leadership transition looms, The Economist profiles a man tipped to come out ahead in 2022: Hu Chunhua, whose current position as Party secretary of Inner Mongolia parallels Hu (no relation) Jintao’s equivalent role in Tibet from 1988-92. Inner Mongolia provides a disproportionate share of China’s coal and GDP growth, but the conflict between mining-led economic development and traditional ways of life has fuelled unrest. “Little Hu” has so far handled this with some success.
When Mr Hu took up his post in 2009, it might have seemed a cushy assignment. Inner Mongolia’s backward economy was booming thanks to demand for its minerals, ranging from copper to rare earths, but especially its coal. Its ethnic Mongols were far less rebellious than the unruly Tibetans upon whom Hu Jintao imposed martial law in 1989 when he was Tibet’s party chief (Hu Chunhua, who is described in official hagiographies as a fluent Tibetan speaker, was there at the time, too, as a junior official). Inner Mongolia has long been a majority ethnic-Han province, with Mongols making up less than 20% of its 24.7m people (several hundred thousand of them are herders). In May 2011, however, Mongols in Xilin Gol, a sparsely populated prefecture about the size of Britain, rattled Mr Hu by staging the region’s biggest protests in 20 years.
[…] To the herders, mining brings few obvious benefits. Over the past decade, thanks largely to the rush for resources, Inner Mongolia has recorded the fastest GDP growth of any Chinese province (17% annually on average between 2001 and 2011—see chart). But mine workers are mostly hired from elsewhere, says Sun Xueli of the Inner Mongolia Academy of Social Sciences. Herders also find it hard to find jobs in Inner Mongolia’s prospering cities. Their mother tongue, Mongolian, is unintelligible to
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