The top Communist Party official in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), Wang Lequan, has been removed from his post, nine months after deadly riots in China’s northwestern-most region.
The Communist Party Central Committee announced Saturday that Wang would be replaced by Zhang Chunxian, who was formerly the party chief of Hunan province in the east of China.
Wang, who had held the position of secretary of the Xinjiang regional committee since 1995, was appointed a deputy secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Communist Party Central Committee. No reason was given for his removal.
Wang drew criticism for presiding over harsh policies in the XUAR, China’s northwestern-most region mostly populated by Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority of China.
“He was incredibly hard-line, he was extremely authoritarian, and he presided over the imposition of policies from the religious to the economic that were incredibly intrusive and caused a great deal of unhappiness among Uyghurs,” said Sophie Richardson, an advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Wang was unpopular among Han Chinese as well for the handling of violence that broke out between Uyghurs and Han in Urumqi in July of last year, the worst violence in Xinjiang in at least a decade.
In September, tens of thousands of Han Chinese protested in Urumqi to call for Wang’s resignation, blaming him for failing to ensure their safety during the July riots and a during series of syringe attack scares in the city.
Days later, the central government announced the replacement of Urumqi party secretary Li Zhi and the director of Xinjiang’s public security department, Liu Yaohua. Central strategy
The announcement of Wang’s replacement took place following a high-level meetings in Beijing presided over by Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss economic development and long-term stability in Xinjiang.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said that the change in leadership would not be enough to solve the problems in Xinjiang.
“Wang Lequan’s dismissal and the appointment of a new official will not ease the situation in the region,” he said. “In order to ease the situation in the region, China must unconditionally support Uyghurs’ political wishes."
"If China continues to adopt unfair policies in the region and if Uyghurs don’t have the right to make political decisions in their own homeland, the situation will worsen even further,” he said.
“It may be that what the central party authorities are expecting out of Wang’s replacement are in fact harder-line policies,” Sophie Richardson said.
“Because the central [government’s] perception of the problems in Xinjiang essentially denies the root causes of the problems, it’s entirely possible that Wang’s replacement might actually be more hard-line than Wang.”Story by Rachel Vandenbrink with Mamatjan Juma for RFA's Uyghur service.