Security to remain top of agenda for Xinjiang

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 2010, 12:00am

Policies for the restive Xinjiang region will for the first time be sketched out at a top-level meeting in Beijing this year.

Information revealed by state media indicates that security will remain at the top of Beijing's agenda. The issue of ethnic equality is likely to be addressed but little meaningful progress is expected.

Zhou Yongkang, the Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security and law enforcement, announced at a preparatory meeting on Tuesday that a Xinjiang Work Symposium would be convened to plan for the region's 'faster development and long-running stability', China Central Television reported on Wednesday night.

It will be the first high-level conference called by the central government to set out policy for the Uygur-populated region, rocked by the nation's biggest and deadliest ethnic clashes in decades in July.

Five rounds of similar conferences have been held to frame policy for equally restive Tibet since the early 1980s, with the latest round taking place in Beijing last week.

The absence at the preparatory meeting of Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's hardline party secretary for 15 years, renewed speculation he could soon step down. 'There was a rumour that he is on his way out, so this work symposium will probably coincide with a new regional leadership,' Nicholas Bequelin, Human Rights Watch researcher, said.

Wang was criticised by members of both the Han and Uygur communities during the July unrest.

Zhou told Tuesday's meeting that authorities from both fronts should work to enhance the autonomous region's reform and improve living standards. Officials from the National Development and Reform Commission and energy companies presented investment plans for resource-rich Xinjiang.

Observers said Beijing was likely to adopt a pump-priming approach similar to the one it has used in Tibet, but that security concerns in Xinjiang would take centre stage.

Tibet issues have been handled by the United Front Work Department, which oversees ethnic minority and religious affairs. But the composition of the Xinjiang Work Symposium preparation task force indicates that regional affairs are being co-ordinated by the security authorities.

Aside from Zhou, Tuesday's meeting was attended by Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu , propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, State Councillor Ma Kai and United Front Work Department head Du Qinglin. CCTV footage of the meeting did not show any Uygur members.

Ilham Tohti, a professor of economics at the Minorities University in Beijing, said the absence of ethnic and religious affairs researchers and experts from the task force suggested issues such as tight security that are a major source of Uygur complaints would not play a significant role in future policy making.

'Without the participation of Uygurs, Han officials' plans and research will definitely be one-sided,' he said.

However, Bequelin said Beijing had adopted new language in addressing the Xinjiang issue, with 'equality' and 'unity' placed together for the first time when dealing with ethnic issues.

Bequelin also noted that Zhou insisted only that the 'general direction of Xinjiang's development' was correct, a deviation from Wang's previous statement that 'the party's policies are always correct'.

'There is also some kind of acknowledgement that socio-economic issues are affecting the ethnic minority,' he said. 'But I am not saying this will change their policies.

'The government's basic policy will remain to try to assimilate the Uygurs economically, to tap natural resources and ensure social order. But there is a bit more space for acknowledgement.'