China census and demographics 2021
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Traffic in Xinjiang passes in front of a banner calling for the stability and development of the Uyghur autonomous region. The Xinjiang government has released a summary of the 2020 census results. Photo: Kyodo

China census: migration drives Han population growth in Xinjiang

  • The region’s Uygur community grew 16 per cent in the decade to 2020 compared with 25 per cent for Han
  • Regional government says data prompted it to revise down Uygur population figures
The Han population in China’s western region of Xinjiang grew faster than the ethnic minority Uygur population over the last decade, according to the results of the 2020 national census.

Compared with the previous census in 2010, the Han population in the autonomous region grew by 25 per cent, while the Uygur population grew by 16 per cent.

Most of the Han population growth came from migration from other parts of the country, the Xinjiang government said in a summary of the results released on Monday.
Xinjiang’s population increased to 25.85 million in 2020, of which 11.62 million were members of the Uygur ethnic minority and 10.92 million were Han. The government did not specify the ethnicity of the remainder of the population.


China birth rate at 60-year low as new census shows population grew slightly to 1.412 billion

China birth rate at 60-year low as new census shows population grew slightly to 1.412 billion

The regional government said the census results prompted it to revise down the Uygur population data by between 170,000 and 482,000 people annually for 2011-2019.

James Leibold, a professor at Australia’s La Trobe University who researches ethnic conflict in contemporary China, said the growth of the Han population largely through migration pointed to a broader Beijing policy.

“That really confirms the strategy of Beijing to ‘optimise’, in their words, the population structure of Xinjiang, which involves the constriction of the Uygur population as well as increasing the size of the Han population, as well as readjusting where those population groups live,” Leibold said.

Human rights groups and a United Nations panel estimate at least 1 million members of the Uygur and other minorities have been detained in Xinjiang, and subjected to political indoctrination, torture and forced labour.

China has repeatedly denied the allegations and said its policies in Xinjiang are to counter terrorism and extremism and fight poverty.

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Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo has overseen the region since 2016, shortly before the start of a surveillance build-up and mass detentions.

The census also showed the natural population growth rate for Xinjiang fell from 11.4 per thousand in 2017, to 6.13 per thousand in 2018 and 3.69 per thousand in 2019.

Xinjiang’s government claimed that this reduction in population growth rate was due to economic development in southern Xinjiang, where most Uygurs live, and ethnic minorities choosing to get married later and having fewer children.

The full census results have not yet been released. Analysts were watching for statistics such as birth rates by region, birth control and ethnic make-up of the population, which were available for up until 2018, but were not provided for 2019.

“That shows Beijing is sensitive about this issue because of accusations that this may meet the definition of genocide under the UN convention. It does suggest they’re trying to hide something,” Leibold said.


UK parliament declares Uygurs suffering ‘genocide’ in China’s Xinjiang

UK parliament declares Uygurs suffering ‘genocide’ in China’s Xinjiang

Leibold and other researchers, including US-based Adrian Zenz, have accused Beijing of carrying out a mass campaign to drive sterilisations and long-term birth control for Uygur and other ethnic minority populations in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang is one of the least populated parts of the country but 2018 family planning statistics showed the region had the third-highest number of sterilisations and second-highest use of intrauterine devices, a long-term form of birth control, in the country.

Some Chinese researchers such as Li Xiaoxia from the Xinjiang Development Research Centre have responded to international criticism by saying Han population growth was slower than that of the Uygur community.

Li said between 2010 and 2018, Han population grew at 2 per cent, increasing from 8.83 million to 9 million. However, it is not clear if this rate included the 1.95 million Han migrants to Xinjiang since 2010.

Without offering an explanation, Li also said 12.72 million Uygur people lived in Xinjiang in 2018. The 2020 census results said the Uygur population was 11.62 million.

Zenz said the data reflected Beijing’s attempts to boost the Han population and decrease the Uygur population.

“This proves the dramatic impact of measures to prevent births on the Uygur and ethnic minority population,” Zenz said.