China's central government pledged Wednesday to improve living conditions for farmers and herders in Inner Mongolia while continuing to promote the development of the border region that recently saw its biggest demonstrations in two decades.
Last month's protests followed the killings of two Mongols who were trying to block coal-mining and coal-hauling operations that locals complain damage grasslands and cause pollution.
On Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao presided over an executive meeting of the State Council, China's Cabinet, that called for the incomes of Inner Mongolia's urban and rural residents to surpass the national average by 2020, an official statement said.
"Inner Mongolia has an important strategic position in the country's economic and social development as well as the overall prosperity and stability in the bordering areas," the statement said.
Other targets set during the meeting: by 2015, the deterioration of the region's ecology should be curbed, while farmers, herders and others have potable water and better access to electricity by 2013. The government also vowed to take more action to reduce desertification and soil erosion.
At the same time, the statement called for the promotion of the building of a national energy base in Inner Mongolia and the expansion of resource processing and other industries _ which were sources of the recent tension.
The statement did not mention the recent demonstrations, but the outcome of the high-level meeting is in line with Beijing's well-honed strategy for responding to protests: after deploying overwhelming force to prevent more demonstrations, address some grievances and pledge to improve lives while maintaining the need for development.
Similar tactics have been used in response to protesting Tibetans and Turkic Muslim Uighurs, as well as in dealing with the tens of thousands of large-scale disturbances by people in the country's Han Chinese majority.
In Inner Mongolia, the mining boom has brought mass migration to the region by members of the Han ethnic group. It has enriched some but pushed further to the margins an already dwindling number of herders _ whose roaming the grasslands with their herds of cattle, goats and sheep lies at the core of Mongol identity.