Xinjiang's dovish leader shows his claws

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am

Xinjiang's new party secretary has stressed the need to safeguard regional stability and fight separatism in hardline remarks that contrast with his image as an open-minded moderate.

Zhang Chunxian has held a series of meetings with representatives from the Xinjiang Regional Military Area, Regional Armed Police Force, the Production and Construction Corps and the regional Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference since being named the restive region's Communist Party secretary late last month.

The Xinjiang Daily reported that during meetings with military officers on Thursday and Saturday, Zhang called on those present to keep clear heads and take their jobs seriously, stressing that 'the battle against separatist forces in Xinjiang is severe, complex and intense, while the basis for maintaining stability remains fragile'.

Zhang told the military personnel that stability was an overriding priority and safeguarding it was their most important duty, the report said.

'Please make an all-out effort in preventing and combatting various separatist and sabotage activities, particularly those in relation to the 'three forces' of terrorism, separatism and extremism,' he said.

The media-savvy Zhang was one of the most popular regional leaders on the mainland when party secretary of Hunan, before being sent to Xinjiang to replace the hardline Wang Lequan. The reshuffle was generally regarded as a sign of a possible subtle change in Beijing's rule over the Uygur-dominated region.

In contrast, Wang was widely considered one of the most unpopular regional party heads, long accused of pursuing iron-fisted policies that were blamed by some for triggering the bloody clashes between Han Chinese and Uygurs in July that left nearly 200 dead and thousands injured.

Political observers said Zhang's remarks showed that he was attempting to win favour with the regional military forces first and that maintaining political stability in Xinjiang remained Beijing's top priority.

'This kind of rhetoric shows the basic political line and analysis towards the Uygur-dominated region has hardly changed,' said Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong, 'though Zhang may put things, such as the implementation of certain policies, in a more skilful, softer and moderate way'.

'After all, such principal policies are concerned with the country's stability and profound national interests which are something not decided solely by Zhang, nor even his predecessor.' Cheng also said that the audiences Zhang chose to address with his hardline remarks were also significant, saying: 'As a newcomer who took over the reign of the restive area, Zhang had to keep up the morale of the local military force and show his respect.'

Cheng's viewpoint was echoed by another Hong Kong-based political commentator, Johnny Lau Yui-siu.

'In an attempt to maintain the internal morale of an instrument of the dictatorship, there's no doubt that the newcomer Zhang would pay visits to the military forces.'

He predicted that Zhang would soon paint himself a more moderate and open-minded image, going to see local Uygurs and delivering some more flexible remarks on ethnic policy to fulfil domestic and overseas expectations. 'But should there be an eruption of more, similar ethnic Hunrest in Xinjiang, I'm 100 per cent sure that Zhang would stick to the central government policy and carry out its suppression ordered against protesters without the least hesitation,' Lau said.

'It's just like Hu Jintao , who cracked down on the violence in Tibet when he was the party chief of the region and was nothing more than an executor of the will of then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.'