China’s police chief has hit out at what he called efforts to use Xinjiang to contain Beijing, as the Communist Party comes under growing pressure over its treatment of ethnic minorities in the region.
“[We] must step up international cooperation on counterterrorism and resolutely stop attempts to use Xinjiang to contain China and attempts to use terrorism to contain China,” Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi said, according to a statement from the ministry on Thursday.
He was speaking during a five-day trip to Xinjiang that wrapped up on Wednesday, repeating a line that has been used in Chinese state media to refer to Western sanctions.
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Zhao also called for improved security measures to ensure stability in the far western region for the party’s upcoming centenary on July 1.
Tensions have escalated between Beijing and Western allies this week after the US, European Union, Canada and Britain imposed sanctions on China over its alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and China responded with its own sanctions on EU officials.
In China, there has been a backlash on social media, with calls for a boycott of companies – including Swedish clothing retailer H&M and American sports brand Nike – that say they will not use cotton from Xinjiang amid claims of genocide and forced labour in the region.
Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the trip underlined Beijing’s determination to continue its policies in the region despite the mounting international pushback.
“[Zhao’s remarks] suggest they will remain in place even though there’s no imminent [terrorist] threat,” he said.
Beijing has defended its policies in Xinjiang – including detaining Uygurs and other Muslim minorities in what it calls “vocational training centres” – as necessary to fight against terrorism and extremism following attacks in the region, but has said there have been no such attacks since the end of 2016.
“However, threats remain from outside China’s borders,” Li said. “[Former US secretary of state Mike] Pompeo’s move to revoke the designation of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organisation could encourage forces that might plan such attacks.”
The US State Department removed ETIM from its terror list in November, a group Beijing has blamed for the most violent attacks in Xinjiang in recent decades.
During his visit, Zhao also called for the risk of terrorism in Xinjiang to be tackled with a “sober mind”, and for “high pressure” to be kept up. He called for “terrorism-related” audio and video content to be “cleaned up”, and for law enforcers to achieve a “fundamental shift” in the region’s long-term stability.
He said the upcoming centenary of the party should be marked with “outstanding achievements”.
The milestone is seen as an important political task and officials across the country have been told to ensure social stability is maintained for the event. Zhao’s ministry is at the forefront of those efforts. In a January meeting with top police officers, he stressed the importance of the centenary year and warned against “infiltration and sabotage by hostile forces”, as well as terrorism.
He is the second senior Beijing official to be sent to Xinjiang this month, with Wang Yang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, telling cadres to “optimise” governance of the region during a visit last week.
While in Xinjiang, Zhao also observed an anti-terrorism drill at the state-owned Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and an emergency response exercise by local police in the regional capital Urumqi, according to the ministry statement.
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