Tiananmen Square crackdown, Xinjiang … China’s defence minister says Beijing got them both right

Lee Jeong-ho

China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday defended Beijing’s handling of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and its current use of “vocational training centres” in the far western region of Xinjiang, saying both were necessary to ensure the nation’s stability and development.

“People’s quality of life [in Xinjiang] has improved and they enjoy secure and stable lives,” he said in a question-and-answer session after his speech at the ongoing Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

“Therefore China’s policy in Xinjiang is absolutely right.”

China’s rapid economic growth and its citizens’ improved living standards validated Beijing’s actions, he said.

On the use of so-called vocational training centres in Xinjiang, Wei said their only purpose was to prevent terrorism so that locals could enjoy the benefits of the region’s economic development.

“Vocational education ensures there are no terrorist attacks … Over the past more than two years there has not been a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang,” he said. “It helps people to learn some skills so they can reintegrate into society.”

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Chinese officials initially denied the existence of such facilities but later admitted that some citizens had been sent to them as punishment for minor criminal offences. Beijing has said the centres are designed to steer people away from extremism, in a region plagued by violence it blames on Uygur separatists and Islamists.

“The living standards of local people has improved, and the average GDP [gross domestic product] per capita is US$7,500,” Wei said. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

On the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square, the 30th anniversary of which falls on Tuesday, Wei said China had no option but to use the military to repress the student movement in which hundreds of people, and possibly more than 1,000, were killed.

“That incident was political turbulence,” Wei said. “The central government’s measures to stop that turbulence was correct. China has enjoyed stable development.”

He continued by saying that in the 30 years since the crackdown, China had undergone major changes under the leadership of Communist Party.

“If you visit China you can better understand that part of history,” he said.

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On the ongoing dispute between Chinese technology giant Huawei and the United States, Wei dismissed allegations the company had links to the military.

“Huawei is a private company, not a military company,” he said. “Just because the head of Huawei used to serve in the army, does not mean his company is a part of the military. That doesn’t make sense.”

On Saturday, acting US secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan said in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue that Huawei was too close to the Chinese government and posed a security risk to the international community.

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