BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s restless far western region of Xinjiang will have to wage a long-term struggle to contain separatist forces and maintain stability there, the region’s top leader was quoted as saying by state media.
Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi was hit by bloody ethnic rioting last year between majority Han Chinese and minority Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who call the region home, in which at least 197 people died.
Energy-rich Xinjiang, strategically located in central Asia, has been struck in recent years by bombings, attacks and riots blamed by Beijing on Uighur separatists demanding an independent “East Turkistan.”
Many rights groups and exiles say Chinese controls on the Uighurs’ religious and cultural rights is the real cause of discontent, and that Beijing overplays the threat of terror attacks to justify its tough line.
Wang Lequan, Xinjiang’s long-serving Communist Party chief, said there would be no let up in the fight against the separatists, nor would the government relax its grip.
“Nothing can be done if there is no stability in Xinjiang. The struggle against separatism and separatists is long, complex and acute,” the official Xinjiang Daily paraphrased Wang as telling police late last month.
“Unswervingly follow the line that stability trumps all ... (which) is the main task and number one responsibility,” he added.
Only with stability can the economy develop, said Wang.
“Work hard to create a good political environment for the good and rapid development of the economy and society to make a contribution for Xinjiang’s overall stability.”
Critics of China’s policies in Xinjiang say too little of the billions of dollars of central government investment there flows to Uighurs, and such inequalities have stoked ethnic enmities.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Jeremy Laurence