China Xinjiang Chief Survives Political Firestorm

Despite calls for him to resign following protests over random syringe attacks on residents, Xinjiang’s powerful Party secretary Wang Lequan remains in office, AP reports:

Angry protesters poured into the streets of the regional capital Urumqi last week, demanding the removal of Wang and other officials over deadly ethnic rioting in July and a string of unnerving needle attacks blamed by the government on Muslim separatists. Officials say five people died in the protests and 21 have been detained on suspicion of stabbing people with needles.

On Saturday, the protesters won a partial victory with the firing of Urumqi’s Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi and Xinjiang’s regional police chief. Wang, 64, escaped without so much as a reprimand.

“Wang Lequan is too big,” said an Urumqi beverage seller on Sunday, who would give only his surname, Chen, for fear of official reprisals. “There is nothing you can do.”

If anything, last week’s protests may have strengthened Wang’s position because Beijing will always favor a tough approach toward ethnic unrest, even if that just aggravates the tensions, said Michael Davis, a professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

A Washington Post report gives a slightly different picture of Wang Lequan’s current status:

Beijing has long relied on Wang to make sure that the long-standing discontent among Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighur population does not spread and thus pose a threat to broader political stability in China. The July riots and the ongoing protests have damaged that trust. The Communist Party is even more determined to maintain stability than usual as it prepares to reaffirm its grip on power with celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.

That is why on the streets of Urumqi, the theory is that Wang has less than a month left in office. Many Xinjiang residents believe he must be in trouble with Beijing because he has not appeared on state television since last week’s protests.

But analysts say removing Wang would be close to impossible. “As a provincial party chief, you will only be demoted if you’re corrupt or if you’re dead,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst.

See also a report from Reuters about conditions in Urumqi following this week’s protests:

Calm descended on most of Urumqi after two high officials were fired and doctors reassured fearful city residents, but another alleged needle stabbing on Sunday sparked the angry outburst by dozens of Han Chinese. Police dispersed them by firing tear gas, according to witnesses.

On Thursday and Friday tens of thousands called for the resignation of Xinjiang region Communist Party Secretary Wang Lequan, saying he had failed to ensure their security after hundreds of reported syringe attacks blamed by authorities on separatists. Some tried to storm Uighur areas.

Han Chinese said they were relieved by military doctors’ assurances that the needle attacks would not spread AIDS, but not fully satisfied by the sacking of city party secretary Li Zhi and regional chief of police Liu Yaohua.

A Washington Post report goes into more detail about Wang Lequan’s status:

Beijing has long relied on Wang to make sure that the long-standing discontent among Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighur population does not spread and thus pose a threat to broader political stability in China. The July riots and the ongoing protests have damaged that trust. The Communist Party is even more determined to maintain stability than usual as it prepares to reaffirm its grip on power with celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.

That is why on the streets of Urumqi, the theory is that Wang has less than a month left in office. Many Xinjiang residents believe he must be in trouble with Beijing because he has not appeared on state television since last week’s protests.

But analysts say removing Wang would be close to impossible. “As a provincial party chief, you will only be demoted if you’re corrupt or if you’re dead,” said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst.

September 6, 2009 6:20 PM
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Categories: Politics, Society