Chinese president urges unity on rare visit to once-turbulent Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang this week on his first visit in eight years to the once volatile Northwest Frontier region, where the United States has accused China of genocide against the Muslim Uighur minority.

From Tuesday to Friday, Xi visited sites in Xinjiang including a cotton farm, a commercial district and a museum, state channel CCTV reported in a 34-minute evening news release on Friday after Xi left Xinjiang.

The United States is banning cotton imports from Xinjiang due to concerns about the use of forced labor. China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.

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A photo taken by the official Xinhua News Agency showed Xi without a mask surrounded by smiling and applauding residents, many of whom appeared to be Uighurs in ethnic costumes and prayer caps.

Xi urged Xinjiang officials to listen to the people to win their hearts and maintain their unity. He also stressed the need for regular security measures aimed at maintaining social stability.

CCTV also quoted Xi as saying that Islamic practices should conform to Chinese sensitivities and that Xinjiang should prepare a team of “politically reliable” religious representatives.

Xinjiang was the scene of sporadic anti-government and anti-Han violence before a crackdown that the United Nations said in 2018 put 1 million Uighurs in “massive internment camps” set up for political indoctrination.

China initially denied the existence of any camps, then said it had set up “vocational training centers” with dormitories where people could “voluntarily” register themselves to learn about the law, Chinese language and vocational skills. In 2019, she said, all the trainees “graduated”.

Xinjiang has not reported any violent attacks since the centers were established.

said Lee Ming Jiang, Associate Professor at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The trip marked Xi’s first public appearance since he visited Hong Kong to commemorate July 1 marking 25 years of Chinese rule for the former British colony, another area where Beijing has significantly tightened its control in the wake of violent pro-democracy and sometimes anti-China protests. in 2019.

Xi’s last visit to Xinjiang was in 2014, when he called for an “all-out struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism,” according to leaked papers cited by the New York Times. Local authorities later intensified their efforts to track, monitor, and re-educate the Uyghurs.

Xi, who has also been imposed on the once-troubled Tibet Autonomous Region, last year made the first visit by a Chinese leader to the region in three decades.

Xi is preparing to secure an unprecedented third term of leadership later this year.

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(Reporting by Yu Lun Tian) Editing by Tony Munro and Nick McPhee

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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