A large number of Han residents of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, had demonstrated from September 2 to 4,2009, to protest against the failure of the local authorities to stop the wave of mysterious attacks with hypodermic syringe needles since August 17,2009. These demonstrations led to two important changes in the local party and Government.
2. On September 5,2009, the regional committee of the Communist Party of China for the Xinjiang Autonomous Region replaced Li Zhi, who was the Secretary of the Urumqi Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, by Zhu Hailun, who was the Secretary of the Regional Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the entire province. Simultaneously, the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the province, which is the provincial legislature, replaced Liu Yaohua, who was the Director of the Public Security Department of the province, by Zhu Changjie, who was the party chief in the Aksu Prefecture of the province. The Public Security Department of the province, which works under the Ministry of Public Security of the central Government in Beijing, is responsible for internal intelligence and internal security. The police also comes under its supervision.
3.Commenting on these changes, I had stated as follows in my article of September 5,2009, titled “Two Heads Roll In Xinjiang” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers34/paper3395.html : “Some interesting points about these two changes need to be underlined. Firstly, the two decisions have been projected as taken at the provincial level, but the instructions for the changes must have come from Beijing. Secondly, while the change at the party level has been restricted to the municipality of Urumqi, the change at the governmental level has affected the head of the Public Security Department for the entire province. There has been no announcement regarding the head of the Public Security Department in the Urumqi municipality. Any decision regarding him has apparently been left to the new provincial chief. It is also interesting to note that Wang Lequan, the head of the Communist Party of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, has not so far been affected. He is the provincial head of the party continuously since 1994 and is considered very close to President Hu Jintao. During the demonstrations, most of the slogans were against him. Large sections of the Hans of Urumqi blame him for the failure of the police to protect them, but he can be removed only by the central party Politburo or its Standing Committee in Beijing. It would be interesting to see whether he too is removed by the Politburo or whether he is protected from any humiliation by President Hu Jintao. If he is removed, that could be an indication that Hu's position in the party has been weakened by the developments in Xinjiang. If he manages to stay on despite his alleged mishandling of the situation, that could be an indication that Hu's position remains strong.”
4. The Communist Party of China announced on April 24,2010, that Wang Lequan has been transferred from his post and posted as Deputy Secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. He has been replaced by Zhang Chunxian as the Party chief of the Xinjiang Region. Zhang, 57, is a native of Yuzhou city in Central China’s Henan Province. Before his transfer to Xinjiang, he was working as the Secretary of the CPC Hunan Provincial Committee from December 2005. Zhang, who joined the party in 1973, had served previously in the Ministry of Machinery, the Ministry of Supervision and the China National Packaging and Food Machinery Corporation, and subsequently as the Assistant Governor of Yunnan Province before going to Hunan in 2005.
5. The announcement of the changes in the party leadership of the Xinjiang region was made by the Party a day after the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the party had held a meeting at Beijing to review the situation in the Xinjiang Region. A Xinhua news agency dispatch on the meeting said: “The meeting, presided over by President Hu Jintao, stressed that economic and social development in Xinjiang be pushed forward in a sound and speedy manner, placing priority on guaranteeing and improving people's livelihoods so all ethnic groups in the region can live a more prosperous and happier life.”
6. The fact that Wang had managed to continue as the head of the party in the Xinjiang Region for nearly eight months after the incidents of September,2009, would indicate that Hu managed to resist pressure from the public and party for his immediate removal from the Xinjiang Region. The Xinhua report on the Political Bureau meeting did not refer to the changes in the leadership. A separate announcement regarding this was made on April 24, but the announcement did indicate that the changes came after the meeting of the Political Bureau.
7. In January last, the Chinese Party had convened a Tibetan Work Forum ( the fifth since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupied Tibet ) chaired by President Hu to discuss Tibet-related policies. It was after that Forum that the Chinese decided to resume their dialogue with the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and toned down their demonisation of His Holiness. It was stated at that time that a similar Work Forum ( the first on Xinjiang) would be organized. It is not clear whether the Politbureau meeting of April 23 was, in fact, the proposed Work Forum or was a prelude to that.
8. During his 16 years as the Xinjiang Party chief, Wang concentrated on developing the oil industry of the Region and encouraged the settlement of a large number of Hans from other parts of China to work in the oil industry. He incurred the anger of the Uighurs by introducing the teaching of the Chinese language in the primary schools and by banning the local Government servants from having beards, wearing headscarves and observing the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. His failure to anticipate and deal effectively with the Uighur disturbances in July last and the subsequent needle attacks on the Hans in August incurred the wrath of the Hans too. He found himself criticized by both the communities. It was the strong support of Hu that enabled him to continue till now despite widespread perceptions of his mishandling of the situation.
9. It would be interesting to see whether the new party chief would be authorized by the Party Central Committee to introduce any changes in the policies towards the Uighurs and their West-based leaders such as Mrs. Rebiya Kadeer, the President of the World Uighur Congress, who have been in the forefront of the campaign against the violation of the ethnic rights of the Uighurs by the Chinese authorities. Will there be a toning down of the demonisation of the ethnic rights movement? Will the Chinese relax the curbs on the religious rights of the Muslims too? ( 24-4-2010)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies . E-mail: email@example.com )