The starting orders came on Thursday from Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang . At that moment, legions of bulldozers, concrete mixers and excavators were powered up at work sites across more than a dozen cities. It marked the beginning of a plan to spend 1.75 trillion yuan (US$275 billion) in the region, 900 million yuan of it this year, the official Xinjiang Daily reported on Friday. In all, work got under way or resumed on 4,467 projects in the region – 27 with a total investment of more than 5 billion yuan and 103 projects with a total investment of 1 billion yuan to 5 billion yuan, the report said. The launch of the major infrastructure projects appears to be another sign that Beijing is confident of its grip on society and its Xinjiang policy is tilting back to economic development, an observer says. The infrastructure drive in Xinjiang is part of Beijing’s broader efforts to stimulate the economy amid weakening external and internal demand and disruptions from Covid-19 outbreaks. Some Chinese media outlets estimate that provincial governments across the country launched a total of 3 trillion yuan in infrastructure projects in January alone. In Xinjiang, an area as vast as Iran, the investment comes after a steady, quiet shift in policy since September 2020. While China has not softened its tone in response to international criticism and Western sanctions over alleged human rights abuses in the region, it no longer focuses solely on draconic social control. This has been apparent in comments from state leaders, particularly from Wang Yang , chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Several times throughout last year, Wang, the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking official and top Xinjiang policy coordinator, spoke about the need to put in more effort into the region’s development. Xinjiang’s new party chief calls for efforts to boost supply chains That shift was underpinned with the appointment on December 25 of the region’s new Communist Party chief Ma Xingrui . Ma, a prominent technocrat with a track record of development in China’s economic powerhouse of Guangdong, took over from Chen Quanguo, the chief architect of Xinjiang’s social control measures. Beijing did not announce the next step for Chen but he continues to appear at meetings of the party’s inner circle, the Politburo. Beijing has also made one major gesture to its international critics – agreeing to a trip to Xinjiang in May by United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet . China’s Xinjiang policies ‘poorly explained and ruthlessly executed’ There are other signs of easing on the ground. Urumqi resident Chen Xue said she had noticed the removal of some barricades in the city’s main shopping district. “Some concrete blocks and metal guardrails in Urumqi’s major shopping streets have already gone,” Chen said. “I remember they were installed after the attacks in 2014 and people had to walk farther to get to our shop.” Some previously cancelled performances have also resumed in past months. Chen said she had just been to a show about the Silk Road at the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar that had been closed for several years as security was tightened. A Xinjiang civil servant, who declined to be named, said he and his colleagues were also allowed to take time off on the weekend. “Previously, we were asked to be on alert 24-7. We’ve basically had no days off in the past few years,” he said. “Life is gradually returning to the old days before the major terror attack – I think and I hope.” Xie Maosong, a senior researcher with Tsinghua University’s National Strategy Institute, said the resumption of massive infrastructure projects and some relaxation of social control was only possible because Beijing was confident that it had security under firm control. “China’s belief is that security is a prerequisite of development. It is only with the security foundation laid by Chen Quanguo that Ma Xingrui can start mega development,” Xie said. He said Beijing’s investment in Xinjiang showed Xinjiang’s strategic value for China not only in terms of natural resources but also as a major gateway connecting Central Asia and Eastern Europe. He said this investment was going ahead despite the uncertainty raised in Central Asia and Eastern Europe by the war in Ukraine – a sign of Beijing’s longer-term confidence in the region.