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Rare visit by China's Xi to formerly unrest-ridden Xinjiang

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English - This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Xinjiang for the first time in eight years. The US...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English - This week, Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Xinjiang for the first time in eight years. The US has accused China of committing genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in this once-tense northwest frontier province.

State media claimed on Friday that Xi had visited locations from Tuesday through Thursday, including a university and a commercial zone in the regional capital of Urumqi. State media typically announces news of Xi's movements after the fact and with few initial details.

In a picture released by the official Xinhua news agency, an unmasked Xi was surrounded by cheering citizens, many of whom appeared to be Uyghurs dressed in traditional attire and Muslim prayer hats.

Before a crackdown that the UN stated in 2018 had imprisoned one million Uyghurs in "huge internment camps" designed for political indoctrination, Xinjiang had been the scene of intermittent anti-government and anti-Han Chinese violence.

China has consistently disputed that Uyghurs are mistreated. Initially denying any camps existed, it later claimed to have established "vocational training centres" with dorms where individuals might "voluntarily" enrol in order to learn about law, Chinese language, and vocational skills. According to the statement, all trainees "graduated" in 2019.

Since the creation of the centres, no violent incidents have been reported in Xinjiang.

According to Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, "the purpose of Xi's visit to Xinjiang is to see the results of the policies he has put in place in recent years to stabilise Xinjiang and to conclude that his approach and strategy for Xinjiang had been successful."

The trip is Xi's first public appearance since his July 1 visit to Hong Kong, a former British colony under Chinese authority for 25 years and another region where Beijing has significantly tightened its grip following occasionally violent pro-democracy and anti-China rallies in 2019.

According to stolen documents cited by the New York Times, Xi's last known trip to Xinjiang took place in 2014, during which time he urged for an all-out "fight against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism". Later, local authorities increased their attempts to find, manage, and re-educate Uyghurs.

Xi, who has also tightened controls in the formerly unruly Tibet Autonomous Region, paid the region his first visit in three decades last year.

Later this year, Xi is certain to win a record-breaking third term as leader.

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