New chief calls for modernisation of China region beset by rights fears

Xinjiang is one of the world’s largest cotton producers, an industry that has been targetted by a new US law that has banned imports over forced labour concerns

Beijing (AFP) – The new party chief in China’s Xinjiang called for improved business conditions in his first official visit to the region, where forced labour accusations have prompted some countries to announce a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

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After overseeing the key manufacturing hub of Guangdong, new top Communist Party official Ma Xingrui replaces soldier turned politician Chen Quanguo, who led periods of harsh repression in the border regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.

Campaigners say at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang sparking accusations of genocide by the United States, which China has denied.

In a visit to regional capital Urumqi this week, Ma called it necessary to “improve the modernisation” of industrial and supply chains, said state-run local media, and to “implement measures to support enterprises and stimulate innovation.”

He also emphasised the need to boost investment promotion and create a strong international business environment, including tax breaks, but did not provide further details.

Xinjiang is already a major production hub, accounting for an estimated 20 percent of garments imported into the United States each year.

But Beijing has come under mounting pressure over its policies, with US President Joe Biden last Thursday signing a law that virtually banned all imports from the region over forced labour concerns.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act takes particular aim at three products: cotton, of which Xinjiang is one of the world’s major producers; tomatoes; and polysilicon, a material used to produce solar panels.

Former aerospace engineer Ma was previously governor of the southern manufacturing hub of Guangdong, a province that makes and exports everything from electronics to clothes.

He replaces Chen, who has been party chief of Xinjiang since 2016, and has been hit with US sanctions over what Washington called the “horrific and systematic abuses” in the region.

Before Xinjiang, Chen was the architect of a harsh clampdown in Tibet, following protests and a spate of self-immolations by Buddhist monks in the Himalayan region.

Following his appointment, Ma vowed to “unswervingly promote sustained and long-term social stability in Xinjiang, and never allow for reversal of the hard-won stability”.

Washington, London and Canberra have all announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games over concerns of widespread rights abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority.

China says that camps in Xinjiang are vocational training centres, and argues that the education they offer has prevented violent terrorist incidents and improved living standards.

© 2021 AFP