Xi’s rare Chinese visit to Xinjiang

Chinese President Xi Jinping made a rare appearance this week in the restive region of Xinjiang, his first visit there in more than eight years, and his second in two weeks aimed at showing national unity after a tour of Hong Kong, as he seeks to prolong his rule.

Early Friday, state media broadcast about half a minute of China Central Television footage showing Mr. Xi in government offices, a museum, classrooms and a business district in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. It was greeted by musicians and dancers dressed in traditional clothing worn by members of the Muslim Uyghur minority, an ethnic group targeted by the United States and other Western governments that say it is a large-scale forced assimilation programme.

State media later published a short clip showing Mr. Xi stopping in the city of Shihezi, where he visited a unit of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary organization established in the 1950s to help develop the border region. Also known as Bingtuan, XPCC As a result of Western sanctions It has in recent years aimed to impede its commercial interests, including the export of cotton, due to its alleged role in the assimilation campaign.

On Wednesday, Mr. Xi told Bingtuan employees that their organization plays an indispensable strategic role while inspecting local facilities, including the museum and farmland.

The Chinese government denies it mistreats ethnic minorities and says Xinjiang policy is an internal affair. The summary report on Mr. Xi’s visit appears to emphasize national unity rather than ethnic divisions.

The surprise visit culminates in a nearly two-week period in which Mr. Xi has not appeared in state media, an unusually long period for China’s top leader to be out of sight. This year is critical for Mr. Xi politically as he completes what analysts expect will be his bid to stay in power for a third term. The Chinese government often withholds news of Mr. Xi’s travels until his trip is over.

Chinese President Xi Jinping boarded a train to Hong Kong ahead of the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain. It’s his first trip outside the mainland in more than two years. Photo: CCTV

The trip to Xinjiang came in the wake Mr. Xi’s two-day visit to Hong Kong In late June to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese sovereignty. It was Mr. Xi’s first visit there since Beijing imposed a strict national security law that critics, including the US government, say has curtailed rights in the once-free city.

Mr. Xi is not known to have visited Xinjiang since evidence emerged that the Chinese government had expanded A campaign that lasted for years of forced assimilation and ubiquitous surveillance By holding members of the region’s Muslim ethnic minorities in mass internment camps.

The Chinese leader toured Xinjiang in April 2014 when, following violence elsewhere in China that Beijing blamed on ethnic separatists including Uighurs from Xinjiang, he ordered military personnel in the region to “strike first” on the terrorists. Chinese media reported that hours after the four-day visit ended Attack with knives and explosives At the Urumqi railway station that left many dead.

By 2018, human rights groups, governments, and Western media were documenting evidence that surveillance of Uyghurs and some members of other ethnic minorities had intensified dramatically in Xinjiang, with some being held en masse in concentration camps and others who are subject to forced labour. Estimates of detainees later exceeded one million.

Beijing described the facilities as vocational schools. This month, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “The issues related to Xinjiang are of great concern to China. The so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is an outrageous lie from the American side to smear and contain China.”

Shortly before leaving office in January 2021, the Trump administration declared China’s activity in Xinjiang genocide, a term the Biden administration has since adopted.

Western governments have also imposed economic sanctions on some Chinese officials involved in Xinjiang policy, and Severing commercial and investment links for the region. The United States and some allies have diplomatically boycotted This year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing Protesting Xinjiang’s policy, as well as China’s policies toward Hong Kong.

In a brief report on Mr. Xi’s recent trip to Xinjiang, the media said its purpose was an opportunity for the president to understand the promotion of talent in Xinjiang, the control of Covid-19, economic and social development, and the strengthening of the unity of the Chinese nation. “All races are one loving family. Combined to build the China dream with one heart,” wrote a poster behind elderly people dressed as Uyghurs who danced for Mr. Xi, using one of Mr. Xi’s favorite slogans.

Said Salih Hodayar, the prime minister in Washington, D.C., in a self-declared government-in-exile for East Turkestan. Mr. Shi’s emphasis on local communities during the visit was interpreted as indicating a greater “micro-level focus” on controlling people in the area.

Separately, Umar Kanat, an ethnic Uyghur who runs the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, criticized the president’s visit in an email. “It is hard to bear to see Uyghurs smiling and dancing in front of the man responsible for the atrocities, especially given the lengths to which the government has gone to erase authentic cultural expressions,” he wrote.

Georgetown University historian James Millward, author of “Eurasian Crossroads,” a history of Xinjiang, said Xi made an effort to be seen as working to preserve minority culture during his trip.

“This is likely in response to ample evidence and international criticism of PRC policies that have suppressed cultural expression and demolished traditional non-Chinese architecture,” said Mr. Millward, referring to the PRC.

write to James T. Want me at [email protected] and Chun Han Wong at [email protected]

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