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Two Heads Roll in Xinjiang

The demonstrations by a large number of Han residents of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, from September 2 to 4,2009, to protest against the failure of the local authorities to stop the wave of mysterious attacks by hypodermic syringe needles since August 17,2009, have claimed their first victims— one at the level of the Urumqi city and the other at the provincial level..

2. The officially-controlled Xinhua news agency announced on September 5,2009, that the regional committee of the Communist Party of China for the Xinjiang Autonomous Region has replaced Li Zhi, who was the Secretary of the Urumqi Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, by Zhu Hailun, who was the Secretary of the Regional Political and Legislative Affaitrs Committee of the entire province.

3. At the provincial level, Xinhua reported that the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of the province, which is the provincial legislature, has replaced Liu Yaohua, who was the Director of the Public Security Department of the province, by Zhu Changjie, who was the party chief in the Aksu Prefecture of the province. The Public Security Department of the province, which works under the Ministry of Public Security of the central Government in Beijing, is responsible for internal intelligence and internal security. The police also comes under its supervision. In China, the head of the Public Security Department of a province is generally referred to as the police chief of the province and the Minister for Public Security at Beijing is referred to as the police chief of China. All police chiefs are appointed by the respective legislatures on the recommendation of the party— the provincial police chiefs by the provincial legislature and the Minister for Public Security by the National People’s Congress or by its Standing Committee, if it is not in session.

4. Some interesting points about these two changes need to be underlined. Firstly, the two decisions have been projected as taken at the provincial level, but the instructions for the changes must have come from Beijing. Secondly, while the change at the party level has been restricted to the municipality of Urumqi, the change at the governmental level has affected the head of the Public Security Department for the entire province. There has been no announcement regarding the head of the Public Security Department in the Urumqi municipality. Any decision regarding him has apparently been left to the new provincial chief.

5. It is also interesting to note that Wang Lequan, the head of the Communist Party of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, has not so far been affected. He is the provincial head of the party continuously since 1994 and is considered very close to President Hu Jintao. During the demonstrations, most of the slogans were against him. Large sections of the Hans of Urumqi blame him for the failure of the police to protect them, but he can be removed only by the central party Politburo or its Standing Committee in Beijing. It would be interesting to see whether he too is removed by the Politburo or whether he is protected from any humiliation by President Hu Jintao.

6. If he is removed, that could be an indication that Hu’s position in the party has been weakened by the developments in Xinjiang. If he manages to stay on despite his alleged mishandling of the situation, that could be an indication that Hu’s position remains strong.

7. The other person whose future requires watching is China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, who rushed to Urumqi from Beijing on September 4. He is responsible for supervising the work of the Public Security Department of the province. If the provincial chief is removed because of the situation, can Meng in Beijing escape responsibility for failing to supervise his work effectively. Meng can be removed only by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee on the recommendation of the party.

8. One possibility is that Wang and Meng may be allowed to continue till the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China next month are over and may be eased out thereafter. Will the Han residents of Urumqi remain quiet till then or will they resume their demand for sacking Wang immediately. If the Hans resume their demand for removing Wang and if Hu doesn’t do so, there is a danger of the public anger turning against him.

9. In the meanwhile, there was relative calm in Urumqi on September 5. There was one attempt by a group of about 1000 young Hans to gather at the central square, but this was thwarted by the police without using force. The authorities allowed the local mosques to hold their Ramadan prayers. Many shops were open. However, there was a heavy presence of the People’s Armed Police all over the city. Despite this, more incidents of needle-stabbings were reported. There have been no fatalities due to the stabbings, but for the last three days rumours have been circulating in the city that the Uighurs have been trying to infect the Hans with the HIV virus. This has added to the panic. A team of Army doctors has been rushed to Urumqi from the PLA headquarters in Beijing to examine the persons injured by the needle-stabbings and to dispel these rumours.

10.The local security agencies are totally non-plussed and do not know how to deal with the new modus operandi of the Uighurs, which amounts to the use of soft terror, that is, criminal intimidation, causing polarisation between Muslims and non-Muslims and discrediting the security agencies in the eyes of the public through means, which do not cause mass fatalities. Or are some local irrational elements, having nothing to do with terrorism or extremism, causing a scare in the population similar to the anthrax scare in the US after 9/11? (5-9-09)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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