Experts say that the Xinjiang governance model might be copied elsewhere in the country
The state-controlled media Xinhua News reported on Saturday that Chen Quanguo has been replaced as the Xinjiang party chief by Ma Xingrui.
The new Xinjiang party chief, Mr Ma, 62, is an aerospace engineer and served as the governor of Guangdong province since 2017.
Mr Chen, meanwhile, is moving on to a new role, according to Xinhua News. But the details of his new role have not been made public.
Several experts said that the move might be an attempt by Beijing to revamp its image prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Human rights activists across the world have estimated that more than one million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang region. China, however, rejects these accusations.
Mr Chen, 66, is a senior party official and accused by rights activists of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
He was also sanctioned by the United States last year “in connection with serious rights abuses against ethnic minorities” in Xinjiang — which include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse targeting Uygurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in the region. But it was reported that in spite of his tarnished record according to the West, he might be up for a promotion, according to the South China Morning Post.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday banned imports from Xinjiang over concerns about forced labour of Uyghur Muslims in the region. The US has also announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Meanwhile, it was still unclear who will take over the post of Guangdong governor after Mr Ma’s transfer.
Mr Ma commanded China’s first successful lunar surface mission, Chang’e 3, after he was made the director of the China National Space Administration in 2013. Prior to this, he has also served as a general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing told SCMP that Mr Chen’s “replacement cannot be called a response to international pressure. The pressure does exist, but what Beijing did is the opposite – as Chen might be promoted to a higher level, and the governance model in Xinjiang might be copied elsewhere in the country.”
Song Xiaozhuang, from Shenzhen University’s Centre for the Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau, was quoted as saying that “Guangdong’s economy has led the country in many aspects, including in GDP. Ma is very familiar with the issue of ‘forced labour’ from his dealings with foreign investment from all over the world.”
On Twitter, Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch said: “Fire him, demote him, retire him—doesn’t matter. Should still be investigated, prosecuted for #crimesagainsthumanity, against #Uyghurs, others.”