Hu names 3 issues as top priorities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 June, 2010, 12:00am

President Hu Jintao has identified Tibet , Xinjiang and the wealth gap as the three issues that must be given top priority by the central government in the coming years.

Hu has mentioned the three several times recently, including at two Politburo meetings and two high-profile central work conferences on Tibet and Xinjiang, according to officials familiar with the situation.

'We must firmly grasp the work on Tibet, Xinjiang and the reform of the distribution system now, and make and sustain significant progress in these areas in the next few years,' an official quoted Hu as telling the internal meetings. The official is involved in the drafting of a 10-year development blueprint for the western region, which covers the autonomous regions where the Tibetans and Uygurs are prominent. The current plan will expire at the end of this year and another one will replace it.

In the speeches, Hu described distribution system reform as a 'long-term mission but an urgent task'.

This year Hu has chaired Politburo meetings, one each, on the riot-scarred regions. The leadership has also convened two separate high-level central work conferences on the regions. The Tibet conference was in January and the Xinjiang one in April.

The central government plans to convene another high-level meeting on the reform of the distribution system late this year, the officials said. Hu attached as much significance to the tackling of the widening income gap as to the ethnic minority issues, seeing the trio as potential triggers of social unrest, they said.

The two regional conferences were also attended by all Politburo members, central ministers and regional party chiefs and government heads.

Yesterday, Tibet Communist Party chief Zhang Qingli pledged to 'achieve leapfrog development and maintain long-term stability', a slogan approved by the two central meetings.

Under the new development strategy, the central government has pledged to spend billions to help speed up development in the two regions, while seeking unprecedented handouts from rich and relatively developed provinces to support them.

The central work conferences have also issued more preferential policies to develop the two regions. Beijing's leaders have said economic development will remain a key part of the strategy, even though a similar approach previously failed to prevent deadly unrest.

The two ethnic minority regions have been a source of controversy for decades, as separation movements have never ceased since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

In March 2008, protests broke out in Lhasa and spread to other areas of Tibet amid complaints of religious oppression and income disparity. Protests led by Buddhist monks later gave way to violence, with rioters torching shops and turning on residents, resulting in 19 deaths by official figures. But proTibet groups abroad say more than 200 Tibetans died in a subsequent crackdown across the region. Beijing has denied that and said it used minimal force.

Uygurs, like Tibetans, also complain they face restrictions on their civil liberties and religious practices.

In 2008, when Tibetans rioted in Lhasa, militant Uygurs mounted attacks on security forces and Han businesses before and during the Olympics. The latest and worst ethnic rioting was last summer, which left nearly 200 dead and thousands injured. The central government blamed the rioting on overseas-based groups agitating for greater Uygur rights in Xinjiang.