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New Xinjiang party chief pledges to follow President Xi Jinping’s policy on the sensitive region

  • Former governor of Guangdong province Ma Xingrui tells leadership meeting he will work to maintain social stability and public order, in keeping with Xi’s aims

  • His predecessor, Chen Quanguo, is the most senior target for US sanctions over China’s treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in the region

by Jack Lau

Published, 9:00pm 27 Dec, 2021

Ma Xingrui will take over as party chief of the Xinjiang region. The US hit his predecessor and other Xinjiang officials with sanctions over the crackdown on Uygur Muslims and other minorities. Photo: Edward Wong

The new party chief of China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has pledged to maintain social stability and public order, indicating there will be little change to how the sensitive border region is run.

Ma Xingrui vowed he would follow President Xi Jinping’s Xinjiang policy focusing on long-term stability and “economic development of a high quality” although he did not give specifics, Xinjiang Daily, the official newspaper of the region’s party committee, reported on Sunday.

The 62-year-old was the top official in Shenzhen, the metropolis in the southern Guangdong province, from 2015 to 2016. He was promoted to the province’s deputy governor, and in 2017 he became governor – or second-in-command – of Guangdong province.

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After Ma’s promotion to the top spot in Xinjiang, Shenzhen’s party secretary, Wang Weizhong, was made acting Guangdong governor on Monday.

“We have to steadfastly sustain long-term stability in Xinjiang’s society and must not let this stability – which did not come easy – to be undone,” Ma said at his first leadership meeting as Xinjiang party secretary on Saturday. He spent most of his speech emphasising that he would implement Xi’s ideas and plans for Xinjiang, including a vow to maintain a “good political standard” for cadres, an allusion to Xi’s oft-repeated policy of tightening discipline around party and government officials. Chen Quanguo, Ma’s predecessor, told the meeting he completely embraced and would absolutely abide by the decision by the party’s Central Committee to reshuffle the leadership of Xinjiang.

Zhang Jian, an associate professor at the Peking University School of Government, said a shift in the region’s top position was routine

“Transfers among Chinese local governments are commonplace,” he said. “Officials have been reassigned to different regions, be it north or south, east or west. This happens quite a lot. I don’t see much deep meaning in the transfer in Xinjiang.”

The 66-year-old Chen became Xinjiang party secretary in 2016, holding the post for five years, compared with his predecessor who held the office for six years.

He is the most senior target of US sanctions that have been imposed over the crackdown on Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in the region.

In July last year, the US blocked people and companies in the country from dealing with property owned by Chen and three other Xinjiang officials, for what it deemed to be serious rights abuses against members of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. The United States also blocked them and their families from entering the US.

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The next step for Chen has not been announced. A member of the Politburo, he could be promoted to its exclusive seven-member standing committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, at the national congress expected in the latter part of next year.

Zhang said he did not know whether either Chen or Ma would be promoted after their stints as Xinjiang party chief, but any promotion would have little effect on Beijing’s Xinjiang policy.

“The party leadership’s policy on Xinjiang is already very mature,” he said. “In the short term, I don’t see any changes in policy. If the leadership change happened in 2014 or 2015, there could be room for speculation. But now, there’s nothing much to speculate.”

He said any change Ma brought would relate to leadership style rather than broad policy direction, because the local government and party committee had zero to very limited capacity to dictate policy, a power reserved for authorities in Beijing.


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