A former PLA soldier with extensive anti-terrorism experience has been confirmed as party chief of Urumqi, capital of China’s far western Xinjiang region. Yang Fasen, 50, appeared in his new role for the first time alongside the 14 other members of the new Standing Committee for the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region at the closing of the regional party congress on Monday, according to Xinjiang ’s official broadcaster. Yang will serve under Chen Quanguo, who is expected to continue as the region’s party chief until next year’s 20th national party congress. Chen last week used his opening address to urge all party officials in Xinjiang to “stay vigilant against terrorism and in maintaining stability” in their everyday work, according to the official Xinjiang Daily . Xie Maosong, a senior researcher with the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said Xinjiang had became the country’s first region to finalise a comprehensive succession plan for its party leadership, showing its “great strategic value” to the overall development and security of China’s vast western area. “For now, it seems that Beijing wants Chen Quanguo to stay on as a ballast stone in Xinjiang. It also wants the younger officials deployed to Xinjiang to learn from [him] because Xinjiang’s continued stability is very important to national plans in western China, especially the Chengdu-Chongqing economic circle [development strategy],” he said. The Communist Party Standing Committee of Xinjiang is now made up of 10 ethnic Han Chinese, four Uygurs and one Kazakh. It is one of the largest among mainland China’s 31 provincial level administrations, which typically have 13 committee members. The size of the party’s Standing Committee underscored Beijing’s emphasis on the region, especially since the Taliban takeover of neighbouring Afghanistan, according to a law and politics professor at Xinjiang University. The committee’s composition also “restores the ethnic balance of the top party leadership that has been maintained in past decades”, he said. “Xinjiang is China’s frontier to Afghanistan, and the country’s backyard in supporting its troops against India. Beijing is taking a very close look at all potential security risks that may arise from all the latest happenings,” said the professor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his comments. “That is why many senior cadres from various parts of China are deployed to the hot seats in Xinjiang and Tibet,” he added. “It is also an indirect encouragement to the ethnic minority cadres, reminding them that the promotion track is open to those who demonstrate the tenacity in carrying out the party’s ethnic and religion policies, and fight separatism and terrorism.” What is going on in Xinjiang and who are the Uygur people? Two weeks before Yang’s appointment, his predecessor Xu Hairong was transferred to the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in the southwest. Yang became the youngest regional vice-chairman in Xinjiang in March 2021 after serving as party chief of Hotan prefecture in southwestern Xinjiang for three years. Yang began his career as a soldier in Xinjiang, where he was stationed with the PLA’s nuclear test support unit. He later served in the government of Aksu prefecture in the region’s midwest which neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. He caught Beijing’s attention a year after his promotion in 2014 to party chief of Kuqa county in the Aksu region, when he busted a terrorist group, arresting 30 of its members. Yang was also reportedly on a “wanted list” circulated by the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) which Beijing holds responsible for a series of violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. Zumureti Ubuli, 56, is now the only woman on the committee, following the retirement of Tian Wen, who headed the propaganda department. Ubuli, a Uygur cadre, has served as vice-director of its People’s Congress of Xinjiang since February. Hadan Kabin, 52, a Kazakh and governor of Xinjiang’s Ili prefecture, was also promoted to the top party committee. Respect Uygur rights, 43 countries urge China at United Nations Kazakh Shaerheti Ahan stepped down as acting secretary general of the regional party committee after retiring at the session. There were a series of reshuffles in Xinjiang before the party congress began. Alken Tuniaz, 59, was named chairman of the regional government early this month when veteran Shohrat Zakir stepped down at the age of 68. Further appointments were made last week, following Beijing’s promotion of the region’s former security head Wang Junzheng, 58, to party chief of Tibet. Beijing made several appointments to the top party committee, including southern Haikou city party chief He Zhongyou, 55, and Yusupjan Memeti 53, a veteran of Xinjiang’s civil affairs department, as well as Ilizati Ahmatijan, the 46-year-old former vice-president of state-owned Cofco, China’s largest food processor and trader. Ahmatijan is now the youngest provincial Communist Party Standing Committee member in the country.