Media savvy softens Xinjiang secretary's hardline stance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2012, 12:00am


Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian has a few tricks he uses when dealing with the media, and his methods have seemingly freed him from harsh criticism and even helped him get promotion.

About 100 journalists rushed to surround Zhang for further interviews after a question-and-answer session for the media concluded at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 7, on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress.

Widely known as a media-savvy official, Zhang always wears a smile and is willing to address all types of questions from journalists, even in chaotic situations such as one that resulted when he as mobbed by many reporters.

A cameraman with a Hong Kong television station fell from the top of a table and sprained his ankle as reporters and photographers jostled for a better position to ask Zhang questions and catch his remarks.

When the messy interview had come to an end, Zhang asked whether the cameraman was OK and said he could ask another question, which the cameraman declined.

The cameraman later said members of the Xinjiang delegation helped him further, taking him to their hotel in a wheelchair and offering to pay for a medical check-up and treatment. And Zhang ordered a propaganda official to call him when he recovered, to extend Zhang's regards.

Thanks to his success in portraying himself as an open-minded and friendly leader, much criticism against Zhang's hardline rule over the troublesome Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has largely been kept at bay.

While repeatedly saying that he would make an all-out effort to improve the lives of ordinary people, Zhang vowed during the media briefing to have a zero-tolerance policy when it came to dealing with so-called terrorists in the restive region.

Xinjiang has suffered a string of deadly attacks in the past year that authorities have deemed terrorist, including the fatal hackings of more than 13 people by a group of Uygurs in Yecheng, Kashgar prefecture, days ahead of the opening of the NPC session.

In response, Zhang has authorised police officers to open fire if they encounter similar incidents, and he has called for the recruitment of 8,000 officers to be stationed in all villages in the vast region, in an effort to maintain stability.

In the political forum, Zhang's rivals could use the series of deadly incidents to cast doubt on his leadership abilities, especially as he has been rumoured to be appointed to the Communist Party's powerful Politburo, and as the power struggle heats up ahead of the party's leadership reshuffle this autumn.

But Zhang has appeared confident in his rule, and has seemingly boasted that he has the support of the central leadership in Beijing. He says the Uygur-populated area is the most stable it has ever been, and that he has seen nothing to indicate his current policies should be adjusted.

More important, Zhang is relatively young at 59, and his nine years as a member of the party's Central Committee have given him more experience than some of his potential contenders for a Politburo seat.