Why is the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, instead of the National Development and Reform Commission, administering the economic development of Xinjiang? The following article is a response to the appointment of Wang Lequan as Deputy Chair of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. The implications of this appointment on CCP policy toward Xinjiang are also addressed.
The appointment of Wang Lequan, Xinjiang Communist Party chief since December 1995, to the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee in Beijing has generated a good deal of discussion and debate among Xinjiang scholars and China watchers. Wang, originally from Shandong, has been succeeded by Zhang Chunxian, the former party secretary of his native Hunan Province (For an analysis of Han Chinese officials of Henan/Shandong origin in Xinjiang, see “Ningxia/Hui and Xinjiang/Uyghur: A Comparison” in http://www.xinjiangreview.com). Zhang is known for establishing a liberal economic policy in Hunan. He is also known for being a good communicator open to “creative” ideas, at least according to Vice President Xi Jinping. There is reason to hope that Zhang will lead the region in a new direction by implementing more liberal policies with a focus on tolerance and economic development.
To what extent will this changing of the guard result in policy reform in Xinjiang? The forthcoming policy changes are unknown to all but the secretive CCP politburo, but there is some evidence of a shift in the CCP’s Xinjiang strategy from political domination to economic development. Certain activities reinforce the belief that a policy shift is being effected, namely the formation of a Xinjiang work team and the initiation of a Xinjiang work conference. During this latter forum, many proposals and policies were discussed and publicized. Of potential vast importance, Kashgar has been anointed as a Special Economic Zone. This move has prompted some in the popular media to predict that Kashgar will emerge as a strategic center of commerce – the Shenzhen of Central Asia.
These official re-appointments, the Xinjiang work conference, along with a succession of CCP delegations from China proper to Xinjiang reinforce the impression that the CCP is advancing a strategic and serious change in its Xinjiang policy. These movements indicate that, as heralded by the Chinese media and officials, the “solution” to the Xinjiang “problem” is economic development. As a show of commitment to ameliorate the poor economy of the region, a significant aid package has been prepared. By undertaking these efforts, the Chinese government hopes to maintain the stability and unity of Xinjiang.
Despite these reappointments, proclamations and promises of economic assistance, there is reason to remain skeptical of these motions. The CCP is an authoritarian and paternalistic form of government and regional party secretaries are subordinate to Beijing. Therefore, a change in face should not be mistaken for a change in ideology. And although Wang Lequan was dethroned in Xinjiang, his reassignment as Deputy Chair of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee was not a demotion. This new role in a powerful CCP committee will allow him to form policies to be implemented in Xinjiang. Moreover, his new position will allow him to play a prominent role as architect of economic construction and reform in Xinjiang. This is unusual because CCP strategic economic plans are typically administered by the National Development and Reform Commission, not the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. Even more ironic is that Wang Lequan is the acting team leader in the newly organized Xinjiang work team.
These circumstances raise serious questions on the future of Xinjiang: Why is the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee instead of the National Development and Reform Commission administering economic development in Xinjiang? Why is Wang Lequan leading the work team that is overseeing economic reform in Xinjiang? Has the CCP’s Xinjiang policy been reformulated, or have the rulers simply passed the mantle of repression? If change has been embraced, will the new policies reverse the intolerance and subsequent ethnic discord of the past? These questions demand complex answers as they necessitate a critical evaluation of past policy failures.
(For a Chinese-language covering of Wang Lequan’s dictatorship and corruption in Xinjiang, see http://www.aboluowang.com/news/data/2009/0710/article_80867.html)