China’s new military commander in Xinjiang, confirmed on social media this week, is likely to support repressive mass surveillance and incarceration policies pioneered by the region’s hardline Communist Party boss when the two men served in Tibet, exile Tibetan and Uyghur sources said.
Lt. Gen. Wang Haijiang’s transfer to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from Tibet comes five years after Chen Quanquo took over as XUAR Communist Party chief and locked up some 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps in the name of fighting terrorism and extremism.
The 58-year-old commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Xinjiang Military Region will oversee some 70,000 troops in the high-altitude northwestern region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, and three Central Asian states. Analysts say instability in Afghanistan and other neighbors is used by Beijing as a cross-border security concern driving the repression in the XUAR.
Wang’s posting to Urumqi was officially announced Wednesday on the Xinjiang Military District’s WeChat social media account, but an April report in the official Beijing Youth Daily said he had been transferred to the XUAR earlier this year.
XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen moved to Urumqi in August 2016 after five years as party boss in the Tibet Autonomous Region where he built up security measures and surveillance. Chen moved to suppress support for the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader whom Beijing accuses of being a separatist, and criminalized many ordinary religious and cultural activities.
“A system of intense security and forced assimilation that Chinese Communist Party official Chen Quanguo first developed in Tibet is now being used in Xinjiang, where Chen and his forces have locked up at least 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in prison camps because of their ethnicity, culture and religion,” the International Campaign for Tibet said in a 2018 analysis of Chen’s record in Tibet.
When he moved to the XUAR, Chen ushered in a systematic crackdown on Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslims, featuring intrusive surveillance measures, banning and punishment of cultural and religious practices, and the internment camps that have brought charges of genocide from Western capitals and legal experts.
“As we know that former Chinese Communist Party official Chen Quanguo, who first developed the system of intense security in Tibet, is appointed in Xinjiang now, where Chen is implementing the same routine and harsh policies that were executed in Tibet,” said Jamphel Monlam, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in the United States.
Because Tibet and Xinjiang are two of the most politically sensitive regions in China, the appointment of military commanders are usually supervised directly by the central government, which selects soldiers who are hard-line authoritarians, he told RFA.
Ilshat Hassan, director of China affairs at the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said Chen and Wang know each other and support each other’s mission.
“Wang’s arrival only means he’ll be instrumental in supporting Chen Quanguo’s genocidal policies against the Uyghur people in East Turkestan,” he said, using the name for the XUAR that Uyghurs prefer. “His arrival will bring nothing new except for further disaster.”
Legislatures and governments of several Western democratic countries, including the U.S., have declared that China’s harsh policies against the Uyghurs and others in the XUAR constitute genocide or crimes against humanity.
Wang served in China’s brief 1979 border war with Vietnam and held previous posts as deputy commander of the Southern Xinjiang Military Region, and deputy commander and, recently, commander of 40,000 troops in the Tibet Military Region, according to state media reports.
In 2019, he was promoted to lieutenant general by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, the country’s national defense organization.
Xi’s push for a tough assimilationist approach to ethnic minorities in China also drives the heavy-handed campaigns Chen has imposed on the far-western regions, analysts say.
Reported by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service and by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff and Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.