A Chinese-language report on the Minjian International mailing list says, without indication of source, that a fistfight at the construction site of an unidentified Chinese aid project is being investigated by a government-level committee. The report is entitled 蒙古国中方援建工地发生冲突，民族极端势力介入 (Nationalist extremist forces inolved in conflict at Chinese aid construction site in Mongolia).
The report, without byline or dateline, says that “a conflict occurred because of language communication difficulties” at the unnamed site after Chinese workers went in to repair a burst drinking water pipe. Both Chinese and Mongolians were injured. When Mongolian police, without showing identification or attempting to communicate, detained two Chinese workers on 21 August, their car was surrounded and attacked by 120 Chinese. Two policemen were hurt. Because this was a government-aid project, Chinese embassy officials arrived at the site to mediate and agreed (with whom?) that “the two governments will consult and resolve the matter.”
The following day, activists of the “Pan-Mongolian Movement” (the name suggests an irrendentist or nationalist movement aimed to unite Mongolians in the Republic of Mongolia with those in the Inner Mongolia province of China) arrived at the site and were beaten up as well. An activist said: “We believe that the beating of the Mongolian policemen is a humiliation of our government, a destruction of our laws” (我们认为殴打蒙古员警就是侮辱我们的政府，破坏我们的法律). The Mongolian government has now established a committee to investigate.
It would be interesting to get more reliable information on the incident. It reminds me of the events that occurred in October last year at the Kamchay dam site in Cambodia. The English-language Phnom Penh Post then reported that arrest warrants had been issued for more than 10 Chinese construction workers suspected of assaulting two Cambodian traffic police following a dispute. A company official suggested that the police may have demanded money. My interviews with site management revealed bad relations with local police as a result of what they saw as police unwillingness to deal with theft by Cambodian workers. It may well be that similar reasons — and differing readings of the events — underly the conflict in Mongolia, but what seems to be widespread anti-Chinese sentiment and a government less beholden to China, plus the presence of the “separatist” issue — whether real or as a scapegoat for Chinese media — create conditions in which escalation is more likely. To my knowledge, the Cambodian incident went unreported in Chinese-language media, whereas the assertion of the Mongolian activist — that attacking a policeman constitutes an assault on the nation — resonates with mainstream Chinese nationalist rhetoric.