The chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Yu Zhengsheng, has been put in charge of ethnic and religious issues in the troubled Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions, giving him more clout than his predecessors. The online version of Beijing-based Caijing magazine said Yu was recently made head of the party's central leading small groups on Xinjiang and Tibet affairs. He is also deputy chief of the top party group overseeing Taiwan affairs, under party general secretary Xi Jinping . Yu, with Xinjiang party chief Zhang Chunxian and top ethnic affairs official Wang Zhengwei , spent a week late last month touring Xinjiang, including visits to Hotan , Kashgar , Yili and Urumqi , the Xinjiang Daily reported on Wednesday. Yu pledged to stick to the spirit of the party's 18th national congress in November and a central work conference in Xinjiang after violent clashes between Han Chinese and Uygurs in July 2009 left nearly 200 people dead and thousands injured. In early January, Yu spent a couple of days visiting Tibetan families in Ganzi, Sichuan . Tibetan-populated areas in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai have reportedly seen nearly 120 self-immolations in protest against communist rule since 2009. The party's leading small groups are the ultimate decision-making bodies on key issues and are led by at least one member of the Politburo Standing Committee. During the past 10 years or so, party security tsars Luo Gan and Zhou Yongkang headed the leading small group on Xinjiang. Jia Qinglin , Yu's immediate predecessor, was head of the leading small group on Tibet and deputy head of the one for Taiwan. "In that sense, Yu enjoys more real clout than Jia, with little doubt," said Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based expert on ethnic issues. "He's turned out to be the No1 figure in charge of sensitive, but important ethnic issues now." Jiang said the former Shanghai party secretary appeared more sensible than some other leaders when dealing with thorny religious and ethnic issues, possibly because he was well read, and he had effectively dealt with a disaster in Shanghai. "Faced with a fire which claimed nearly 60 lives in late 2010, Yu stressed the importance of making public the basic facts about emergencies as soon as possible, while reporting their causes in a cautious manner," Jiang said.