China’s violence-prone western region of Xinjiang needs to put more effort into developing its Uyghur heartland to ensure young people have “something to do and money to earn”, Premier Li Keqiang told its top officials.
The government says it faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists in energy-rich Xinjiang, which sits strategically on the borders of Central Asia and where hundreds have died in violence in recent years.
However, exiles and rights groups say China has never presented convincing evidence of the existence of a cohesive militant group fighting the government, and much of the unrest can be traced back to frustration at controls over the culture and religion of the Muslim Uyghur people who live in Xinjiang.
Speaking to Xinjiang delegates to the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, including the region’s Communist Party chief and its governor, Li said Xinjiang occupies an “especially important strategic position”, Reuters quoted the official Xinjiang Daily as saying Friday.
“Xinjiang’s development and stability … have bearing on national and ethnic unity and national security,” Li said.
He said Xinjiang is “generally stable” at present.
Turning to the topic of the heavily Uyghur southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the unrest has occurred in recent years, Li said companies that “suit actual local conditions and are good for the environment” need to be “guided” to set up there.
“Let the people, especially the young, have something to do and money to earn,” he said.
Recognizing the economic roots of some of the violence and frustration of many young Uyghurs at missing out on China’s economic boom, Beijing has increased its focus on southern Xinjiang, pumping in money and encouraging development.
Li said education was also an important part of development and stability.
“You must pay attention to education work, especially in southern Xinjiang,” he told the officials.
“Send educators to southern Xinjiang, nurture well the next generation.”
He did not elaborate, but China has been enforcing in Xinjiang more teaching in Putonghua rather than the Uyghurs’ own Turkic language, hoping to better integrate the ethnic group into Chinese society.
Some Uyghurs have seen that as another way for China to repress their culture.
Beijing strongly denies any repression or human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
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