New leader calls for modernization of China’s region beset by rights fears

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Beijing (AFP) – China’s new Xinjiang party leader called for improved business conditions during his first official visit to the region, where forced labor charges have prompted some countries to announce a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics from Beijing.

After overseeing the key production center in Guangdong, new top Communist Party official Ma Xingrui replaces soldier-turned-politician Chen Quanguo, who has led periods of severe repression in the border areas of Xinjiang and Tibet.

Activists say at least a million Uyghurs and other Turkish-speaking minorities, mostly Muslims, have been held in camps in Xinjiang, prompting US charges of genocide, which the China denied.

During a visit to the regional capital Urumqi this week, Ma called for “improving the modernization” of industrial and supply chains, local state-run media said, and “implementing measures to supporting businesses and stimulating innovation “.

He also stressed the need to boost investment promotion and create a strong international business environment, including tax breaks, but did not provide further details.

Xinjiang is already a major production center, accounting for around 20% of clothing imported to the United States each year.

But Beijing has come under increasing pressure on its policies, with US President Joe Biden signing a law last Thursday banning virtually all imports from the region over issues of forced labor.

The Uyghur law on the prevention of forced labor targets three products in particular: cotton, of which Xinjiang is one of the main world producers; tomatoes; and polysilicon, a material used to produce solar panels.

Former aerospace engineer Ma was previously governor of southern manufacturing hub in Guangdong, a province that manufactures and exports everything from electronics to clothing.

He replaces Chen, who has been the Xinjiang party leader since 2016 and who has been hit by US sanctions for what Washington has called “horrific and systematic abuses” in the region.

Before Xinjiang, Chen was the architect of a severe crackdown in Tibet, following protests and a wave of self-immolations by Buddhist monks in the Himalayan region.

After his appointment, Ma pledged to “relentlessly promote sustained and long-term social stability in Xinjiang and never allow the hard-won stability to be overturned.”

Washington, London and Canberra have all announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games over concerns over widespread violations of the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority.

China claims that the camps in Xinjiang are vocational training centers and maintains that the education they provide has helped prevent violent terrorist incidents and improve living standards.

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