THE NEW PARTY secretary in Xinjing, Ma Xingrui, promises no change in the region’s ‘stability’ policy, implying the human-rights confrontations between China and the United States and the EU will continue.
However, his early remarks touched on the development of Xinjiang’s supply chains and the need to integrate the region into the Belt and Road Initiative, suggesting an attempt to develop export routes through Eurasia to the EU to drive a commercial wedge between Washington and Brussels.
On December 25, when his appointment was announced, Ma pledged to maintain his predecessor Chen Quanguo’s focus on stability and implement President Xi Jinping’s blueprint for Xinjiang.
Two days later, during his first appearance in Urumqi, Ma shifted tone, saying Xinjiang should become more integrated with the Belt and Road Initiative and called for the region’s supply chains to be modernised and the climate for international business made more welcoming, including through tax breaks. He also said that development and security in the region had to be balanced and that maintaining stability was a long-term general goal.
Ma, 62, (left), has a commercial and trade background. He was most recently governor of Guangdong province, a post he took up in 2017 after a couple of years as Party boss in Shenzhen. A similarly short spell as a vice-minister of industry and information technology had followed six years running China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the main contractor for China’s space program, from 2007 to 2013 (Ma is an aerospace engineer by profession).
He also has security experience. When governor of Guangdong, Ma was a member of the central coordinating group on Hong Kong and Macau affairs as Beijing brought Hong Kong more tightly under its control through the crackdown on dissent via the National Security Law. Providing he does not blot his copybook in Xinjiang, Ma looks set for a seat on the Politburo following next year’s Party Congress.
Chen, four years Ma’s senior and under US sanctions concerning the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, is moving to a yet unnamed new position. In his outgoing comments, he praised Xi’s ‘helmsmanship’ — a phrase popping up a lot of late — for what, according to state media, he called ‘the general social stability, high-quality economic growth and a happy and peaceful life for the region’s residents’.
China has repeatedly denied human rights abuses against Uighurs, saying its policies in Xinjiang address extremism and poverty.
On December 25, the regional government ran through the standard arguments of Beijing’s position in response to the bill that US President Joe Biden signed into law that bans imports of goods from Xinjiang unless companies can prove no forced labour is involved. Intel and Walmart are the latest US multinationals ensnared in this aspect of the dispute.
Even with the lures that Ma may dangle, US multinationals will not find it any easier to bite while the current mood in Washington prevails.