Xi calls for greater religious tolerance, more local jobs in Xinjiang

SCMP, 31 May 2014

A push for more local jobs and legal channels for pursuing religious beliefs were among the measures announced at a national Xinjiang affairs meeting that ended yesterday.

At the two-day Central Work Conference on Xinjiang , President Xi Jinping said the long-term issue for the restive region remained ethnic unity.

The conference, like the first one held four years ago, came amid a renewed wave of violence in Xinjiang and other parts of the country blamed by Beijing on separatists from the restive region, which is home to the Uygur ethnic minority.

The Politburo meeting on Monday had outlined the major policy direction for the medium to long term on Xinjiang affairs. It pledged promoting bilingual education and interaction between ethnic groups.

Legal channels for religious people … should be broadened PRESIDENT XI JINPING
The two-day work conference reaffirmed counter-terrorism as an immediate priority.

“[We must] push forward the domestic and international front lines in fighting terrorism and strengthen anti-terror cooperation with other countries,” Xi told senior officials at the meeting.

But in a state television report yesterday, much more coverage was given to detailed measures on ethnic unity, religion , education and economic development.

Xi said the basic principle for easing religious tensions was to protect legal religious activities and deter extreme ones.

The president noted that people’s need for normal religious practices should be protected and that their customs should be respected.

“Legal channels for religious people to accurately grasp religious knowledge should be broadened,” he added.

Professor Yang Shu , from the Institute for Central Asia Studies at Lanzhou University, said the central government was spearheading efforts to remove radical religious thoughts.

“Over the past year, some authorities have also cracked down on non-radical religious activities and this has resulted in resentment,” Yang said.

“The stress on building up legal channels for religious pursuits is an attempt to counter balance the impact caused by radical religious beliefs.”

Xi said the government would encourage ethnic minorities in the region to work and receive education in the more urbanised parts of the country . He pledged more central government funding to boost school enrolment and promote bilingual education.

Premier Li Keqiang said employment was the top livelihood issue for Xinjiang. He called on businesses and investors there to hire more locals.

Jiang Zhaoyong , a Beijing-based expert on ethnic issues, said the measures might help the Uygur and other minority ethnic groups improve their livelihoods. ” Many national state enterprises had hired a certain proportion of local people during the planned economy era. … But this practice was broken when market reforms accelerated in the past two decades,” he said.

But Jiang doubted the government’s ability to develop the economy in southern Xinjiang.

“Geographically, the southern part of Xinjiang lacks natural resources,” he said. “I don’t know what kinds of industries could be developed in Kashgar and other remote counties in the south.”