June 25, 2015 / 5:41 AM / 4 years ago

China counts on textile industry jobs to defuse Xinjiang unrest

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will step up support for the textile industry in its troubled far western region of Xinjiang, state media said on Thursday, as the government moves to shore up stability in an area where unemployment is seen as fuelling unrest.

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang, home to China’s Muslim Uighur minority, in the past few years. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Experts say employment discrimination, along with an influx of ethnic majority Han Chinese taking jobs in Xinjiang, is fuelling resentment that can spill over into violence.

In an acknowledgement of the economic roots of the unrest, Beijing has begun to pay more attention to development, especially in the region’s south, heavily populated by Uighurs.

Under the new plan released by China’s cabinet, the State Council, textile companies from central and eastern China, where costs are rising, will be encouraged to set up factories in Xinjiang, and banks will increase lending to the sector.

“Promote the employment of those in difficult circumstance, especially in southern Xinjiang,” the plan, reported by the official Xinhua news agency, says.

The plan will focus on production of Muslim clothing and hand-made carpets, with the ultimate objective of exports, Xinhua said.

China says the sector employs about 200,000 of a population of more than 22 million people in the vast region, which grows more than half of the country’s cotton, much of it by a commercial arm of the military.

The plan gave no details of financial support, but last year the government said it had set up a 20 billion yuan ($3.22 billion) fund to boost textiles in Xinjiang.

Rights advocates say China’s heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the Uighur people’s culture and language, have fed the unrest. The government rejects those assertions.

($1=6.2085 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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