Government Authorities Announce Upcoming Development Plan for Xinjiang

April 7, 2010

Chinese authorities have announced they will implement new initiatives to speed up development in the far western region of Xinjiang. Authorities will address the development work, along with stability concerns in the region, at a central work forum on Xinjiang later in the year. To date, authorities have provided limited details on the upcoming initiatives. Past development efforts have brought some benefits to Xinjiang but also have exacerbated inequalities and denied local residents meaningful input into such projects. Development efforts remain tightly connected to political controls in the region.

Against a track record of imposing top-down development programs that have exacerbated inequalities and denied local residents the autonomy to chart their own course of development, central and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government authorities have described plans for new initiatives to accelerate development in the region, according to Chinese government and media sources. Premier Wen Jiabao said in his March 5 work report at the annual meeting of the National People's Congress that the government would draft and implement policies to spur economic and social development in the XUAR, as well as in Tibetan areas of China, according to a copy of the report from the People's Daily (via Sina). (See also a March 5 Xinhua report, via China Daily.) Wen did not provide details on the plan. XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri said that the government would publicize the development plan for the XUAR in May, after a central work forum on the XUAR takes place, according to a March 17 People's Daily report.

The work forum, initiated by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau (Politburo) of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), will focus on both development and stability in the region, according to various reports. (See, e.g., a Tianshan Net report via Xinjiang News Net, March 9, a Xinhua report via Tianshan Net, January 28, and a January 24 report from Ta Kung Pao.) Nur Bekri said the upcoming development plan will address key industries in the region, according to the People's Daily article. Specifically, the forum will address 10 areas including infrastructure, improving livelihoods, and "advancing the Party's development in ethnic areas," according to XUAR People's Political Consultative Conference Chairperson and CPC Central Committee member Ashat Kerimbay, as reported in a March 5 article from Wen Wei Po, a PRC-owned Hong Kong paper (available in translation and original Chinese from Open Source Center, subscription required). The forum also will address development in ethnic minority areas and closing the gap between the northern and southern parts of the XUAR, according to an unnamed expert cited in the Wen Wei Po article. As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2009 Annual Report (p. 263), the southern XUAR is a predominantly non-Han area. Over 500 officials from various government departments have visited villages, towns, businesses, schools, and military stations since October "to inspect local social situations and collect people's suggestions, amid efforts to study how to improve the livelihood of local residents and promote ethnic equality and unity," according to the March 5 Xinhua report. A November 20 report from Wen Wei Po (available in translation and original Chinese from Open Source Center, subscription required) described at that time work teams of 400 officials traveling to the XUAR to look at economic and social development as well as social stability, ethnic and religious issues, and building government authority.

The upcoming work forum, emanating from the highest ranks of Party power, follows top-down government development policies that have long prioritized state economic and political goals over the protection of local residents' rights and participation in development decisions. A XUAR delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was cited by the South China Morning Post on March 9 (subscription required) as criticizing current resource exploitation in the XUAR for enriching other parts of China at the expense of localities within the region. In the area of urban development, news from an ongoing project to "reconstruct" the Old City section of Kashgar indicates authorities have carried out work despite objections from local residents over property loss, resettlement, and cultural heritage protection. Most recently, Kashgar authorities have described steps to curb citizen petitioning over the project.

The current focus on development also illustrates how central and XUAR authorities view development as a cure-all in the region, even as local residents―especially Uyghurs and other non-Han groups―express grievances toward government policies in areas such as religious freedom and equal treatment before the law. Following demonstrations and rioting in the region in July 2009, which drew attention to longstanding tensions and grievances over curbs on Uyghurs' rights, XUAR Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan described accelerated development as "the best reply to the 'three evil forces' of terrorism, separatism and extremism," according to his remarks as quoted in a September 29 Xinhua article.

As reported in the CECC 2009 Annual Report (p. 263-264), the central government exerts strong control over the XUAR economy, and economic development is intertwined with political controls and government objectives to uphold stability. Scholar Calla Wiemer noted that "in an effort to ensure stability in a frontier area," the central government "has more actively asserted its control over development in Xinjiang than in any other region." (CECC 2009 Annual Report, p. 263, citing Calla Wiemer, "The Economy of Xinjiang," in Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland, ed. S. Frederick Starr (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004), 164.) While development efforts have brought economic improvements to the region, they also have spurred migration, strained local resources, and disproportionately benefited Han Chinese. In 2008 and 2009, the government described carrying out measures to improve conditions in the predominantly non-Han area of the southern XUAR but connected these efforts with steps to promote continued political controls. In December 2008, XUAR authorities issued an opinion on accelerating rural reform and development, combining policies described as aiming to improve economic conditions in rural areas with steps such as strengthening the management of religious affairs and deepening campaigns on ethnic unity and anti-separatism.

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