Priority given to construction projects to consolidate the foundation for further development
In the early days of New China, the state gave top priority to infrastructure construction in the minority areas. In 1952 the Central Government issued the Principles of the Five-year Construction Plan for the Minority Areas, involving the construction of rails and trunk roads, the repair of existing roads and bridges, and the building of postal, telegraph, telephone and other communication systems in some minority areas. During China's First Five-year Plan period (1953-1957), the state started the construction of eight trunk railways, five of which, including the Lanzhou-Urumqi and Baotou-Lanzhou lines, were in minority areas or linked them with other places. In 1954 the two world-renowned highways connecting Tibet with Sichuan and Qinghai were completed. In the 1960s more railways were built, including the Chengdu-Kunming, Changsha-Guiyang and Panzhihua-Liuzhou lines, and the Yunnan-Tibet highway was also completed. In 1962 the Lanzhou-Urumqi railway line, the first railway line in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, reached Urumqi. Since the late 1970s a large number of key projects have been completed in the minority areas, including the Nanning-Kunming, Neijiang-Kunming and Southern Xinjiang railway lines, Lhasa Airport, the Lanzhou-Xining-Lhasa optical cable, and the project for utilizing water from the Yellow River for irrigation in Ningxia, which have greatly improved the transport and communication conditions and the livelihood in those minority areas.
The state has made the development of local advantageous resources and modern industry a major measure to promote the advance of the ethnic minorities and minority areas. During the First Five-year Plan period, 40 of the 156 large state construction projects were initiated in the minority areas, such as the Baotou iron and steel base in Inner Mongolia, the Karamay oilfield in Xinjiang and the Gejiu tin company in Yunnan. In the 1960s the state moved a host of large industrial enterprises from coastal areas and inland places to the minority areas, thus laying the foundation for modern industry in the latter. Since the introduction of the reform and opening-up policies, the state again has approved a large number of massive projects in the minority areas, such as the Tarim oilfield in Xinjiang, the aluminum plant in Pingguo, Guangxi, the potash fertilizer plant in Qinghai and the coal and electric power base in Inner Mongolia, leading to the formation of several important industrial bases for resources development and processing in these minority areas, and blazing a trail for industrialization based on local resources and with local characteristics.
Since 2000, when China introduced the strategy of large-scale development of its western regions, the state has made it a top task to accelerate the development of the ethnic minorities and minority areas. To ensure that they get tangible benefits, the state has adopted many preferential measures, such as giving priority to these areas when arranging resources development and processing projects, giving compensation to minority places that export natural resources, guiding and encouraging enterprises from economically advanced areas to invest in these places, and increasing financial input and support to them, so as to enhance their economic strength. At present, all of China's five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties nationwide are either covered by the "Develop the West" campaign, or enjoy the same preferential policies as the western regions.
The "Develop the West" campaign has brought about visible profits to the minority areas. By 2008 the accumulated fixed assets investment in these areas amounted to 7,789.9 billion yuan. Of that, 1,845.3 billion yuan was invested in 2008, which was five times that in 2000 and a rise of 23.7 percent on an annual basis. Key projects for transmitting gas and power from the west to the east have been completed, and a number of infrastructure projects, such as airports, expressways and water conservancy hubs, have been built. In 2007 the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was extended to Lhasa, giving a rail connection to Tibet for the first time in its history. A rapid, economical, all-weather transport channel of massive capacity between Tibet and the outside world, the railway has fundamentally changed the backward transport situation in the region, and added wings to the impending economic take-off of Tibet.
The Central Government requires that when planning infrastructure projects located in the minority areas the local government either be exempted from contributing capital or contribute less; when developing resources or building enterprises in these areas, due consideration be given to local interests and the production and life of the ethnic minorities; and appropriate compensation be granted to places exporting natural resources or doing their bit for the eco-balance and environmental conservation. In 1994 the state adjusted the ratio between the amount of capital from the central budget and that from autonomous region governments to 6:4, while the ratio between the Central Government and the government of other provinces was fixed at 5:5. In 2004 the state adopted the compensation mechanism for ecological construction and environment protection. When tapping the rich oil and gas resources in Xinjiang, attention has been paid to the stimulation effect on local development. The West-East Gas Transmission project alone can bring in over one billion yuan of revenue to Xinjiang a year.
Poverty being the key issue to tackle to ensure and improve the well-being of the people
Over the years, the state has adopted a series of policies and measures to relieve the poverty the ethnic minorities suffer. In the 1950s, the state provided free medical services to poor people of the ethnic minorities, granted them loans and farming tools, helped them set up schools and conducted social relief. In 1983, the State Council held a national meeting on production and livelihood in the minority areas, which decided to basically solve the problems of food and clothing, housing and drinking water within a short time. Since 1990 the state has set up a fund to assure the basic needs of people living in poverty-stricken minority areas, and 141 impoverished counties were listed as the first batch to gain this support. In 1994 the Seven-year Poverty Alleviation Program (a program designated to lift 80 million people out of absolute poverty in the seven years 1994-2000) was carried out, and, with the assistance threshold lowered, 116 more poverty-stricken minority counties were covered by state preferential policies. In 2001 the Outline of Rural Poverty-relief Development was implemented, with ten more minority counties included, and Tibet as special region covered. In 2005 the comprehensive development of poor minority villages became the focus of national poverty-relief efforts. In 2007 the state formulated the 11th Five-year Plan for the Development of the Ethnic Minorities, containing 11 key projects. In 2009 the state announced new standards for poverty-relief work, and expanded the coverage to low-income rural people in the minority areas. Other efforts include: providing work as a form of relief, relocating people from places with poor conditions, building settlements for formerly nomadic people, repairing dangerous housing for rural residents, supplying safe drinking water in rural areas, and providing minimum living allowances to rural and urban residents. Thanks to continuous efforts in these endeavors, the impoverished population in the minority areas shrank from some 40 million in 1985 to 7.7 million in 2008.