Beijing names Uygur Alken Tuniaz acting chairman of Xinjiang amid provincial reshuffle

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Beijing has named Alken Tuniaz acting chairman of the Xinjiang region in far western China, replacing Shohrat Zakir who is stepping down at age 68.

Tuniaz, 59, was one of Zakir’s deputies and his new appointment was confirmed by the Xinjiang People’s Congress, the legislature, on Thursday, according to Xinhua.

The promotion was largely expected with Zakir having served as the chairman of the regional government for seven years and because he was past the official retirement age of 65. Both Zakir and Tuniaz are Uygur and they have often appeared in official press conferences rebuking Western governments’ criticism of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.

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Tuniaz has been the second most senior Uygur in the Xinjiang leadership since 2014. He was sent to the Central Party School for training in 2017, a sign he had been shortlisted for promotion.

He is now the only Uygur member of the Communist Party Committee in Xinjiang and ranks second in the political hierarchy behind party secretary Chen Quanguo. While Chen, who is also a member of the Communist Party Politburo, is on the US government’s sanction list for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, neither Zakir nor Tuniaz are on the list.

Born in western Xinjiang’s Aksu region, which borders Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Tuniaz joined the regional government in 1991 after spending seven years at Changji Teachers’ Training College, where he achieved a degree in mathematics.

What is going on in Xinjiang and who are the Uygur people?

He was transferred to take charge of the Hotan region’s government in southwestern Xinjiang in 2005 after spending 14 years in Xinjiang’s organisation department. He stayed in Hotan for three years before he was promoted to vice-chairman of the Xinjiang government in 2008. He was also made a Communist Party Standing Committee member in Xinjiang six years later.

A researcher who specialises in Xinjiang affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said Beijing had been careful in selecting cadres for promotion in Xinjiang, and Tuniaz had won Beijing’s trust.

“It is not easy for Uygur cadres to win Beijing’s trust, especially after the purge of the so-called ‘two-faced’ cadres in recent years. The promotion of Tuniaz sent a subtle signal to the Uygur cadres in Xinjiang that as long as they are loyal to the Communist Party and capable, they will be rewarded,” said the researcher, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Xinjiang has received a steady flow of officials from other parts of China taking up key party and government positions as many senior leaders reach retirement age, including the party chief Chen, who is 65.

Besides Xinjiang, Beijing announced the appointment of two new provincial party bosses on Thursday, continuing its provincial leadership reshuffle ahead of a key party meeting next month.

The local government failures behind China’s power crisis

According to state media reports, Shandong governor Li Ganjie is now party chief of the eastern province, while Zhejiang governor Zheng Shanjie has become the party secretary of neighbouring Anhui province.

Zhou Naixiang, 59, former chairman of China State Construction Group Co and Wang Hao, 58, former party secretary of northwestern Shaanxi province’s capital Xian, filled the vacancies left by Li and Zheng, respectively.

Li, a nuclear power expert and former environment minister, is now the youngest provincial party secretary in China at the age of 56.

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