China to offer Han-Uighur marriages $2,000 a year to promote 'positive energy' in Xinjiang

BEIJING - The authorities are offering rewards of 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) a year to promote intermarriage in restive Xinjiang between ethnic minorities and China's dominant Han ethnic group, state media said.

The far-western region borders Central Asia and is the homeland of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic group. China's ruling Communist Party has blamed separatist militants from the area for a series of attacks across the country over the past year, including in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

"We are advocating the intermarriage of Han and ethnic minorities to promote positive energy," local official Zhu Xin said in a media report posted last week on the website of the Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture government.

The programme also provides health care, housing, employment, educational and other benefits for intermarried households and would contribute toward the realisation of the "Chinese dream", he added, employing a favoured slogan of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The posting had been removed from the government website as of Wednesday afternoon, and the local authorities did not answer phone calls by AFP.

According to official figures, Xinjiang is 46 per cent Uighur - who speak a Turkic language - and 39 per cent Han Chinese.

Relations between the two are often tense and riots rocked Xinjiang in 2009, when about 200 people died.

Beijing says its policies in Xinjiang have brought prosperity and higher living standards, and it promotes the region as an example of a place where numerous ethnic groups live in harmony.

But rights groups and academics argue that tensions have been exacerbated by cultural and religious oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by Han Chinese, who comprise 92 per cent of China's population as a whole.

Critics also cite Beijing's marginalisation of the Uighur language in schools and its moves to discourage veils for women and beards for men.

A year-long anti-terror crackdown, announced after a market attack killed 39 people in the regional capital Urumqi, has seen 800 people arrested since May, according to US-based Voice of America.

Last month a renewed push by the authorities in China's Tibet region to encourage intermarriage between Tibetans and Han Chinese similarly made headlines.

A years-long effort in the region had led to double-digit increases in the intermarriage rate, with 4,795 Tibetan-Han couples tying the knot last year, up from 666 in 2008, according to a government report.