The new head of China’s restive Xinjiang region — the scene of deadly ethnic unrest last year — has pledged a renewed crackdown on separatist elements.
“We must clearly recognise the serious and extremely complex nature of the struggle between separatism and anti-separatism,” the Xinjiang Daily quoted Zhang Chunxian as saying in remarks to the region’s armed police on Saturday.
“Maintaining stability must come before all else… we must strike hard at all the separatist and destructive activities brought on by the three forces of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.”
Zhang was appointed the region’s Communist Party boss in April, more than nine months after nearly 200 people were killed in clashes pitting mainly Muslim Uighurs against members of China’s dominant Han group.
China regularly blames “separatists” for stoking episodes of ethnic unrest, as it did in connection with the violence in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, but has provided no evidence of any organised separatism.
Zhang, 57, replaced Wang Lequan, who had served as China’s top leader in Xinjiang for nearly 15 years and was responsible for handling the July 2009 violence in the vast resource-rich region bordering Central Asia.
Xinjiang’s roughly eight million Uighurs — a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people — have seethed under Chinese control for decades, alleging political, religious and cultural oppression by Beijing.
To fight the simmering discontent, China will from 2011 pour around 10 billion yuan (1.5 billion dollars) in economic aid into Xinjiang, in a bid to raise the living standards of the Uighur minority, state media has reported.
Xinjiang is one of China’s poorest areas, but its economy has been among the country’s fastest-growing in recent years thanks to stepped-up development of its energy and mineral resources to meet soaring demand in major urban centres.
Also on Monday, the People’s Daily announced the establishment of the “Tianshan Project”, a government effort aimed at safeguarding “state culture and ideology” and curbing publications advocating separatism.
This “is a joint ‘anti-pornography’ task force aimed at attacking the spread of illegal publications and propaganda disseminated by overseas and domestic religious extremist, separatist and international terrorist forces,” the paper said.
The “Tianshan Project”, which is named after a Xinjiang mountain range, is a “major action” by the state publishing authority to stem propaganda efforts of both Xinjiang and Tibetan separatist forces, the report said.
According to the exiled World Uighur Congress, Chinese authorities were stepping up “anti-separatism” ideological work in Xinjiang ahead of the first anniversary of last year’s unrest.
Besides urging locals to report suspected separatists, the authorities were investigating the “political leanings” of local Uighur officials and the efforts they have made to fight separatism, the group said in a statement.