China seeks to boost development in minority areas

BEIJING Mon Mar 3, 2014 3:34am EST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will boost development in ethnic minority areas and spur their industrialisation, a senior Communist Party official said on Monday, in implicit recognition of the economic causes of some unrest in areas like Xinjiang.

The comments by Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth most senior ruling party member who heads a largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament, came as China reeled from a deadly attack on a train station blamed on militants from Xinjiang.

"We will conduct investigations and studies on ways to improve the distribution of industry in ethnic minority areas ... promote faster development and spur unity and harmony in ethnic minority areas," Yu said at the opening session of the advisory body, held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

More than 100 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang, a region in China's far west with a significant Muslim population, since last April.

A further 33 were killed in the Saturday attack on the station in the southwestern city of Kunming, including four of the knife-wielding assailants who were shot dead.

State media reported in January that President Xi Jinping was shifting Xinjiang's focus to maintaining stability over development, after a series of attacks last year fuelled by what the government said was religious extremism.

However, state media said last month that the government will pump more than $10 billion in extra funds into Xinjiang this year to improve housing and employment.

Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been beset by violence for years, blamed by the government on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Exiles and many rights groups though say the real cause of the unrest is China's heavy-handed policies including restrictions on Islam and the Uighur people's culture and language, accusations the government strongly denies.

But the government has begun to recognize the economic roots of some of the upheaval, especially underdevelopment and lack of job opportunities in heavily Uighur areas like rural southern Xinjiang, and has poured money in to rectify the problem.

Yu told the more than 2,000 delegates at the meeting that religious leaders and followers had a role to play in development too.

"(We will) get religious leaders and believers to play a positive role in stimulating economic and social development," he said.

President Xi believes China is losing its moral compass and he wants the party to be more tolerant of traditional faiths in the hope these will help fill a vacuum created by breakneck growth and a rush to get rich, sources told Reuters last year.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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