Central Leaders Hold Forum on Xinjiang, Stress Development and Stability as Dual Goals

July 8, 2010

Top central government and Communist Party leaders held a major "work forum" in May to set state economic and political objectives for the far western region of Xinjiang. Authorities at the conference defined promoting "development by leaps and bounds" and upholding stability as twin goals for the region. They also announced a series of initiatives to spur economic growth and to support social welfare. Following the forum, local leaders in Xinjiang unveiled concrete initiatives to implement the objectives of the May meeting, some of which could bring economic benefits to the region. Other initiatives, however, appear likely to clash with residents' rights, especially the rights of Uyghurs and other non-Han groups to preserve their cultures, languages, and livelihoods. The recent plans intensify a trend of top-down initiatives that prioritize state economic and political goals over the promotion of regional autonomy provided for under Chinese law and broader protections of XUAR residents' rights.

Work Forum Stresses Development and Stability

Central government and Communist Party authorities convened a central "work forum" on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in May that sets state objectives for the region's economic and political development. The meeting marks the first work forum directed at the XUAR. (Authorities have held five work forums to date addressing the Tibet Autonomous Region and, most recently, other Tibetan autonomous areas of China. See a related Congressional-Executive Commission on China analysis for details.)

Speaking at the forum, which met from May 17-19, Party General Secretary and President of China Hu Jintao stressed "development by leaps and bounds" and upholding long-term stability (kuayue fazhan he changzhijiu'an) as "major and pressing tasks" for the region. He described the two tasks as prompted by "activities of separatist forces to divide the motherland" and "contradictions" stemming from issues such as the growing needs of a "material culture." (See a May 20 Xinhua report describing the remarks of Hu Jintao and other top leaders at the forum for more details, as well as a May 21 China Daily report paraphrasing Hu's remarks.)

The forum was not reported to have addressed citizen grievances over longstanding political and religious controls in the XUAR (1, 2), and Hu emphasized carrying out current state policy toward ethnic and religious affairs in the region. Specific initiatives described at the forum―many of which represent a continuation or intensification of older measures, bolstered by pledges of increased funding―included more infrastructure construction; increased job creation; improved public services and poverty elimination programs; increased market access for XUAR industry; and renewed programs to promote "ethnic unity," "social stability," and security of border areas, according to the Xinhua and China Daily reports. In addition, the XUAR will institute tax reforms aimed at keeping resource revenue in the region, a reform that will be implemented elsewhere in China at a later date. (See a May 21 Caing article for details). Hu said that by 2015, the government would aim to improve the region's infrastructure, raise its capacity for self-development, and strengthen ethnic unity and social stability, according to the Xinhua report. In addition, it would aim to raise per-capita GDP to the national average and raise people's incomes and public service access to average levels found in western China. By 2020, the government will realize the goal of reaching the overall construction of a "relatively prosperous society" (xiaokang shehui), according to the report.

In a continuation of past stated initiatives, authorities stressed focusing development efforts on the southern XUAR. As noted in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, the southern XUAR is an area with a predominantly Uyghur population that has lagged economically behind areas of the XUAR with larger Han populations. Authorities also will channel development assistance to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), according to the Xinhua report. The PRC government first established the XPCC in 1954 as a means of settling demobilized soldiers and Han migrants to perform border defense functions and to support economic development. Han comprise roughly 87 percent of the XPCC population, according to 2008 statistics reported in an April 20 article from the XPCC. (Official statistics place Han at roughly 40 percent of the total population in the XUAR, as noted in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.)

Authorities Renew "Counterpart" Support Program

In advance of the forum, authorities renewed a program of "counterpart" support that matches provinces and municipalities in the interior of China with localities in the XUAR, with the stated aim of providing monetary, personnel, and other assistance in XUAR development efforts. Counterpart relationships have been in place in the XUAR for 13 years, according to a May 3 article in Liaowang, a journal published by Xinhua (available in PDF and in translation via Open Source Center, CPP20100507710003), but experts cited in the report said that counterpart relationships to date have suffered from problems including shortcomings in the legal system, insufficient implementation, and lack of oversight and followup. The current round of counterpart support expands the number of localities involved, readjusts the pairing between localities, and focuses on support for grassroots areas and the southern XUAR, according to the article.

Shenzhen municipality, which contains one of China's "special economic zones," has joined the counterpart support program, for example, and will partner with the city of Kashgar, according to the Liaowang article and an April 14 Xinjiang Daily report (via Open Source Center, CPP20100505480003). A Kashgar district Party official reported in May that central authorities approved the establishment of a Kashgar "Special Economic Zone" (SEZ) in Kashgar district, according to a People's Daily report (via Net Ease, May 21). See also a June 6 report from China News Net. A June 24 China Daily article reported that an economic development zone (described as "smaller in scale than an SEZ" with fewer preferential policies) would be established in the city of Kashgar, within Kashgar district. Following the May work forum, XUAR Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian reported that authorities would build Kashgar into a "modernized city with rich ethnic features," according to a paraphrasing of his remarks in a China News Net article (via Xinhua, May 28).

The remarks follow implementation in 2009 of a five-year demolition and resettlement project (1, 2, 3) in the Old City section of Kashgar that has razed traditional housing and historic structures in the area. During an early June visit to Kashgar district, XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri elaborated on development plans in Kashgar, as reported in a June 6 Xinjiang Daily article. Speaking about employment issues, he promoted speeding up the transfer of rural laborers to jobs in the interior of China, a program that reportedly has been marked by coercion and labor abuses in some cases. He also emphasized "retaining high quality labor" and training personnel to build Kashgar as an economic development zone.

XUAR Authorities Announce Development Initiatives

Following the forum, XUAR Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian announced in late May a series of development initiatives for the region. He stressed some measures that could bring economic benefit to the region, along with other measures that may bring mixed results or that seem likely to intensify violations of residents' rights, especially the rights of Uyghurs and other non-Han groups to preserve their cultures, languages, and livelihoods. According to a May 28 China Daily report and May 28 Xinjiang Daily article, the measures include extending pension coverage to all elderly residents, boosting employment in the region, and moving 700,000 urban residents to earthquake-proof housing (a stated impetus of the controversial project to raze and rebuild the historic Old City of Kashgar), along with plans to resettle 100,000 herders and intensify Mandarin-focused "bilingual education" with the aim of having all students speak Mandarin by 2020. (See related CECC analyses 1, 2, 3 on "bilingual education," a program that has marginalized the use of Uyghur and other non-Han languages in XUAR schools.) Zhang also stressed that work would focus on strengthening the promotion of state ideologies, "ethnic unity" campaigns, and "Party construction" (a program that includes aims such as strengthening Party discipline, governance, and legitimacy and expanding Party organizations).

Chinese officials have widely publicized the work forum and called on various XUAR government agencies to promote the forum's goals. In a June 10 Xinjiang Daily report, for example, illustrating both the reach of the work forum as well as continued politicization of the judiciary, the XUAR High People's Court issued a notice calling on courts in the region to "study and implement" the "spirit" of the Xinjiang work forum. The notice calls on courts to "serve" the causes of "development by leaps and bounds" in handling various types of court cases. It also stresses striving to ensure the region's "long term stability" through steps such as punishing people who commit state security crimes, a category of offensives that, in some cases, has been used to quell peaceful dissent.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.