President Xi Jinping during his visit to Xinjiang. Source: Yan/Xinhua via AP/picture alliance.
The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, paid a visit to the region of Xinjiang from July 12 to July 15. He visited the capital city, Urumqi, and later moved to Shihezi. This trip comes after his visit to Hong Kong.
This is the second trip to the region in eight years after the international accusations concerning the genocide of the Uyghurs. Mistreatment of this indigenous Muslim group has been repeatedly denied throughout the years by Beijing.
Accordingly, the government labelled as fake the news concerning the existence of concentration camps. The existent camps were just “vocational training centers” that the local population could visit voluntarily to learn the Chinese language, culture, and several other skills.
The visit comes after the leakage in May of a series of documents, the so-called "Xinjiang Police Files" supposed to document in detail the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government against the region's Uyghur minority. The abuses concerned mainly forced unlearning of the minority’s local language and culture, adoption of a pro-secular government-aligned stance, and learning Chinese Mandarin.
The President, during his stop in Urumqi, was portrayed by the official Xinhua news agency without wearing his mask surrounded by a joyful, cheering crowd of locals, many of whom were supposed to be local Uyghurs in the traditional dress with Muslim prayer hats.
The picture is seen as an attempt to present another image of the region based on respect for the local culture and with a focus on economic development. The goal would be the Sinicization of Islam.
The official Chinese government news agency, Xinhua, reported Xi’s declarations about this goal. He stated that "we should keep working on the sinicization of Islam and find ways to adapt religion to a socialist society,” but also that “We should train a group of leaders who're familiar with the Marxist view of religion, and how to work with people having religious belief."
This statement is in line with the government’s wish to ensure social and security stability in the region while adapting the religious nature of the minority to the government’s ideology. One of the main concerns for the Chinese leader is to strengthen the region’s role as the main economic hub, given its strategic position between China and Central Asia.
Accordingly, he visited the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization with strong administrative authority over medium-sized cities, settlements, and farms. It supports the region by providing such things as healthcare, policing, judiciary, and education services.
During his meeting with this organization’s leaders, the President was said to have learned more about their operations to ensure the safety of the border areas.
On the strategic importance of the region, the Chinese President said clearly that Xinjiang is a "core area and a hub". Infrastructure development in the region is paramount to connecting China to Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
This is in line with the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative active in the region, and not only through the construction of railways, ports, and power stations. Geography alone can explain the importance of this area, as Xinjiang borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
As reported by CGTN, last year, Ma Chunlei, president of the Xinjiang International Land Port Group, confirmed the need for leveraging the geographical benefits that the region offers.
In particular, he stated that "Xinjiang's opening-up to the outside world is an important part of the country's opening-up to the West. This is the historical mission carried forward by Xinjiang."
According to Eurasianet, Xi’s visit should also be framed within the government’s attempt to reinvigorate the Chinese economy, especially in 2002, after the iron fist approach to the containment of COVID.
The same source, quoting Raffaello Pantucci, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said that Xi's trip to Xinjiang was planned to reach the local audience. The aim was to show the success of the policies heretofore implemented by the government in the region and to present Xi in the positive position of guarantor of social and economic stability.
Edited by: Sara Moreira
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