China’s appointment of new Xinjiang chief will not change repression of Uyghurs
China will maintain ‘the high-impact oppression’ of the mostly Muslim minority group, researcher says.
China has appointed the governor of coastal Guangdong province as the new Communist Party secretary of its far-western Xinjiang region, replacing Chen Quanguo, considered the architect of the brutal crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
Ma Xingrui, 62, who has governed economically dynamic Guangdong since 2017, will become party chief of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the official Xinhua news agency said Dec. 25.
Chen, 66, has been in his current position since August 2016 and has been accused by the West of spearheading the repressive policies and severe human rights abuses against the 12 million Uyghurs who live in Xinjiang.
During his stint as Xinjiang’s party chief, China built up a network of detention camps in which as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held since 2017 in the name of preventing religious extremism and terrorism.
Though Chen has denied widely documented and credible reports of abuse in the camps, he became the highest-ranking Chinese official to be sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2020 in connection with rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The U.S. government and the legislatures of several European countries have declared that China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.
On Dec. 23, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, blocking the import of goods into the U.S. from Xinjiang without “clear and convincing evidence” that they were not made with Uyghur forced labor.
In early December, the Uyghur Tribunal, an independent people’s tribunal in London, determined that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
The tribunal also found that Chen, Chinese president Xi Jinping, and other senior government officials in the Chinese Communist Party bore primary responsibility for the repression and abuses.
Adrian Zenz, a German researcher who provided crucial evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal about the Chinese government’s atrocities against the Uyghurs and efforts to decrease the mostly Muslim population in Xinjiang, said that Chen had been transferred to Xinjiang because of his ability to quickly build up harsh measures against the Uyghurs.
“He was the ideal person to very quickly ramp up the police apparatus, very quickly ramp up the internment campaign for re-education from existing initial small scale re-education efforts, and to ramp up all the other measures,” he said.
Chen’s replacement is a “change from the high impact, high pressure mode into more of a long-term maintenance mode that will continue to employ oppressive policies in a long-term way,” said Zenz, an independent researcher with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
“[With his] replacement by the governor of Guangdong, we can see Beijing’s strategy of long-term economic development of the region while maintaining the high-impact oppression, assimilation, population optimization, and costs of labor that will all be maintained in a way that is kind of like a slow, slow genocide,” he said.
“I think this was already mostly planned,” added Zenz.
Prior to his appointment in Xinjiang, Chen served as party secretary of the neighboring Tibet Autonomous Region, another ethnic region considered sensitive but not as restive as Xinjiang, from 2011 to 2016.
“Chen Quanguo was known for his hard-line approach in Tibet before Xinjiang where he reinforced assimilation by building a security architecture that enabled surveillance, control, and oppression,” said Kunga Tashi, an expert on Tibet-China relations.
The change in leadership in Xinjiang would not bring any changes in the repression of the Uyghurs, he added.
“Ma Xingrui, who will replace Chen Quanguo as the Xinjiang party chief, has promised to uphold the current state of supervision in Xinjiang as it is now,” the Tibetan said. “So, I believe this replacement just has to do with a wider reshuffle ahead of next year’s 20th [National] Party Congress and nothing to do with ending the harsh policies in Xinjiang.”
Translated by RFA’s Uyghur and Tibetan services. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
(c) 2021, Radio Free Asia