Wang Lequan. Photo by voanews.com
Zhang Chunxian. Photo by enghunan.gov.cn
The long-time governor of Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, has been removed from his post and replaced by Zhang Chunxian, the 57-year-old party chief of Hunan province.
The hardline Communist Party chief, popularly termed the “King of Xinjiang” due to his leadership style, has been Xinjiang’s governor for 15 years. He is largely viewed by foreign human-rights groups as an architect of hard-line government policies toward China’s ethnic minorities.
The northwestern border region of Xinjiang is where China’s worst ethnic violence in decades erupted in the capital city of Urumqi. Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim Uighurs rioted and left nearly 200 people dead last July. More than 130 members of the country’s majority Han Chinese ethnic group, who have moved to remote Xinjiang in growing numbers, were killed. Revenge attacks by Han followed, and escalated in September when angered at what they saw as the government’s slow and ineffective response to the bloodletting, took to the streets of Urumqi in protest and called for Mr. Wang to be fired. The government instead sacked the regional security chief and the Urumqi city party secretary.
The timing of Wang’s departure appears to have been carefully calculated to avoid appearing as an admission of error or of giving in to public pressure while coming well in advance of the first anniversary of the riot when emotions in Xinjiang are sure to be running high.
Wang’s new role will be as deputy secretary of the Committee of Political Science and Law under the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, a clear demotion. In a bid to ease speculation that Wang’s departure can be seen as acknowledgement of mistakes in Xinjiang, Beijing sent Vice President Xi Jinping to Urumqi on Saturday to break the news.
Xi took the occasion to heap praise on Wang, saying, “He firmly adhered to the idea that stability overrides everything, unswervingly safeguarded national unity and struggled with a clear-cut stand against the forces of ethnic separatism.”
Xi’s praise for the outgoing Wang was belied by his commendation of incoming party chief Zhang Chunxian, the boss of central Hunan Province and an ex-Minister of Communication as a man endowed with “liberated ideas, a clear-thinking mind and a spirit of creative thought.”
The government reshuffle comes one day after the Politburo called for faster economic development to boost social stability in the vast and strategically important area. The region has the lion’s share of China’s oil, gas and coal reserves and borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Beijing sees firm control of Xinjiang as key to its ability to preserve territorial integrity and one-party rule. Mr Wang’s “stability above all else” regime had been seen as a guarantor of this.
According to Xinhua, on Friday, a meeting led by President Hu Jintao stressed that economic and social development in Xinjiang be pushed forward “in a sound and speedy manner, with priority on guaranteeing and improving people’s livelihoods so all ethnic groups in the region can live a more prosperous and happier life.”
Beijing is expected to come up with the final new policies at a conference on Xinjiang next month – the first such meeting held on this region.