Chinese President Xi makes first Xinjiang visit since 2014 launch of anti-terror campaign

Mr Xi Jinping inspected the western region's capital of Urumqi, where he urged for the better preservation of minority groups' cultural heritage. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - President Xi Jinping made his first trip to China's remote Xinjiang region since ordering a campaign against terrorism eight years ago.

Mr Xi made an inspection of the western region's capital of Urumqi, where he "called for strengthening party organisations" and offering services "to benefit residents of all ethnic groups", the official Xinhua News Agency reported late Thursday (July 14).

The Chinese leader spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the region, which he lauded as a "hub in Belt and Road cooperation", referring to the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing's infrastructure programme to expand its influence abroad.

He also visited a museum where he urged the better preservation of minority groups' cultural heritage.

Mr Xi's trip to Xinjiang comes less than two weeks after he travelled to Hong Kong to celebrate its 25th anniversary of Chinese rule.

Xinjiang and Hong Kong were once two of China's most-restive spots, with regular displays of opposition to the Communist Party.

In Hong Kong, a Beijing-imposed national security law has locked up the political opposition and shuttered pro-democracy newspapers, while its electoral reform has ensured only party loyalists can hold office in the once free-wheeling city.

The Chinese leader's back-to-back visits of the cities some 2,000 miles (3,200km) apart demonstrates the vast breadth of Mr Xi's control, months before a twice-a-decade party congress that is likely to hand him an unprecedented third term in power.

Mr Xi's visit to Xinjiang is his first since 2014, the year his government launched the "strike hard campaign against violent terrorism" in the region. That year, terrorists used knives and bombs to attack a train station in Urumqi, killing three and injuring scores - part of a series of attacks that Beijing blamed on separatists.

Critics of Beijing's rule said the violence was a response to heavy-handed intrusion as China's dominant Han ethnic group was officially encouraged to move to the region and industries such as cotton growing, dairy farming and solar panel production expanded.

In the wake of those events, the Chinese government put an estimated 1 million Uighurs and other local ethnic minorities into mass detention camps for offences as trivial as having a beard or downloading certain apps to phones.

The United States claims those labour camps are part of a campaign of genocide against the Muslim majority Uighurs, and last month enacted the Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which blocks imports from Xinjiang unless companies can prove they were not made by coerced workers.

Beijing says it is fighting terrorism and calls the facilities vocational training centres that teach valuable job skills.

In 2020, Xinhua quoted Mr Xi as saying that "facts prove that the party's policies on Xinjiang in the new era are completely correct and must be adhered to in the long term".

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