China's new ethnic affairs commissioner 'has little power'
Appointment of Hui Muslim as head of the State Council's ethnic affairs body will do little to ease the country's ethnic tensions, experts say
The appointment of a Hui Muslim as head of the State Council's ethnic affairs body may seem strategic, but experts say this will do little to ease the country's ethnic tensions as the chief will have limited political power.
Wang Zhengwei, 55, chairman of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in the northwest, succeeds Yang Jing as head of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC).
Wang is also the youngest vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), whose meeting ended on Tuesday.
However, Ilhan Tohti, a Central University for Nationalities economics professor and an ethnic Uygur, said the commission "has had the lowest political impact among the 25 departments under the State Council since [the SEAC] was set up in 1949, no matter what official rankings its heads have held".
"As an ethnic Hui from Ningxia, Wang might be more familiar with Uygurs, but he can't influence China's ethnic policy because the role of CPPCC is just a 'political vase' [for display]," the academic said.\
Ningxia has been dubbed the "Chinese Mecca" since the Ming dynasty and boasts a long history of Islamic culture. Located on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, more than 80 per cent of the region's 6.6 million inhabitants are ethnic Hui.
Meanwhile, Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based expert on ethnic issues, said the SEAC had no political role as it was simply involved in research and education.
"It's a fact that Wang can't do anything to influence our country's ethnic affairs," Jiang said. "In Xinjiang [a restive region in the northwest], all ethnic issues are decided by the party's Political and Legal Affairs Commission, while the United Front Work Department controls Tibetan policies."
Yang Jing himself was vice-minister of the department when he headed the SEAC from 2008 until his promotion this year. He was named one of five state councillors on Saturday.
Tohti pointed out that two party officials from ethnic minority backgrounds - former vice-premier Yang Jingren , a Hui from Gansu province, and Ismail Amat, an Uygur from Xinjiang - headed the commission from 1978 to 1998, but ethnic conflicts between minority Uygurs and Han Chinese who settled in the region continued for nearly four decades.