Chinese authorities said they will end a host of restrictive measures on Muslim Uighurs blamed for fueling recent violence in Xinjiang even as the Communist Party promised a renewed fight against terrorism and separatism in the remote region.
Among the controversial changes will be the removal of “convenience contact cards,” which list personal details of Uighurs — other ethnicities are not required to carry them — introduced among security measures in May, 2014 following a series of bloody attacks.
Regional party cadres also announced plans to make it easier for Uighurs to obtain passports, a major point of contention following complaints that excessive red tape prevents this Muslim minority from making the hajj in Mecca.
The new measures were announced during Xinjiang government meetings this week in which regional Communist Party boss Zhang Chunxian launched the “year of ethnic unity.”
“We must respect differences, and take a respectful attitude toward dealing with problems of [different] customs, to create an atmosphere in society of respect for the culture and customs of different peoples,” Zhang was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinjiang Daily on March 31.
The announcements mark the latest sign Chinese leaders may be moving away from hard-line measures in Xinjiang after Zhang said earlier this month that terrorist attacks had dropped in the region.
Appearing alongside the Xinjiang party boss at major political meetings in Beijing earlier this month, Prime Minister Li Keqiang said Xinjiang was now “generally stable,” urging economic development in the restive region to create jobs for disaffected young people.
State broadcaster CCTV placed Urumqi at No. 7 among the top 10 “happiest cities in China” earlier this week. The city has not witnessed a major terrorist attack in nearly two years but clear divisions persist between majority Han Chinese and Uighurs.
Following this month’s political meetings in Beijing, the government announced a new economic blueprint focusing on Xinjiang and Tibet as part of plans to develop a new “Silk Road” as part of its drive toward stabilizing these restive frontier regions.
But campaign groups say economic development efforts represent little more than window-dressing as persecution continues against minorities.
A Tibetan entrepreneur who advocates schools include teaching in the Tibetan language, Tashi Wangchuk, was charged with inciting separatism earlier this month. Tibetan blogger Shokjang was detained in February and may have been sentenced to three years in prison amid conflicting reports.
U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to raise human rights with Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two leaders meet on the sidelines of a nuclear security conference in Washington D.C. on March 31.
“We are calling upon the U.S. government to raise the cases of Tashi Wangchuk and Shokjang, and to express its concern over China’s oppressive and counter-productive policies in Tibet,” said Matteo Meccaci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet based in Washington D.C.