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How Xi Jinping's Hong Kong, Xinjiang trips help him tout his achievements

DW logo DW 26/07/2022 William Yang (Taipei)

The trips will help Xi to strengthen his leadership and show Communist Party members that the policies implemented in both places can help maintain stability, say experts.

At the Communist Party congress later this year, Xi is expected to seek a third five-year term in office © Yan Yan/Xinhua via AP/picture alliance At the Communist Party congress later this year, Xi is expected to seek a third five-year term in office

Over the past few weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping has made rare visits to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as he prepares to seek an unprecedented third term at the Chinese Communist Party's 20th congress in the fall.

During a speech in Hong Kong on July 1, Xi said real democracy started in the territory when it was handed back to China 25 years ago. He also insisted that the semi-autonomous city must be ruled by people who are loyal to Beijing.

"It is a universal rule in the world that political power must be in the hands of patriots. No country or region in the world will allow unpatriotic or even traitorous or treasonous forces and figures to seize power," he said.

Less than two weeks after his high-profile trip to Hong Kong, Chinese state media reported that Xi had made his first visit to Xinjiang since 2014, inspecting the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a supra-governmental organization sanctioned by the US government, a university and a trade zone.

Xi praised the progress in reform and development that has taken place in Xinjiang in recent years. According to Chinese state media, Xi described the province as a "core area and hub" in China's multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build a network of railways, ports and bridges across 70 countries connecting China to countries not only in Asia but also in Africa and Europe.

Xi also called for better preservation of minority groups' cultural heritage, despite repeated international criticism of Beijing's crackdown and persecution of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang over the last few years.

Opportunities to showcase achievements

Xi's recent visits to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and other places in China are opportunities for him to demonstrate his political achievements over the last few years, said Hsin-Hsien Wang, an expert on Chinese politics at the National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taiwan.

"As he is seeking an unprecedented third term as Chinese leader, Xi needs to show the public what he has achieved and what he cares about," he added.

China's hardline policies in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang have caused widespread global condemnation over the last few years.

Since Beijing imposed the contentious National Security Law on Hong Kong in 2020, thousands of protesters and pro-democracy activists in the city have been arrested and jailed.

"Through his visit to Hong Kong, Xi wants to highlight Hong Kong's integration with China. He hopes to show that apart from resolutely restoring stability in Hong Kong following the large-scale protests in 2019, he is also working on facilitating social and economic integration between Hong Kong and China," Wang said.

Emphasizing 'ethnic unity' in Xinjiang

In Xinjiang, meanwhile, rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against the province's Uyghur inhabitants, including the mass use of forced labor in internment camps.

According to estimates by experts, over a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been held in these camps.

Beijing has vigorously denied the allegations, calling them an attempt by the US and other Western nations to interfere in China's internal affairs and tarnish the country's reputation.

With his trip to Xinjiang, Wang believes Xi wants to emphasize "ethnic unity" and prove that he has eliminated what Beijing characterized as "sources of separatism and extremism" in the region.

"Over the last few years, Xi has repeatedly emphasized the sense of community for the Chinese nation, and he wants to show that the hardline policies in Xinjiang have served their purpose," he underlined.

Rayhan Asat, an Uyghur human rights lawyer and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said that Beijing is trying to replace cultural diversity in certain places.

"Ethnic division and tensions are stirred up to boost a nationalism that is positioning President Xi at its core. It is at the expense of the survival of oppressed Uyghurs and other Turkic groups as he consolidates power," she stressed.

What to expect from the party congress?

Nevertheless, the trips will help Xi to strengthen his leadership and show Communist Party members that the policies implemented in both places can help maintain stability.

"Xi believes these results can help him seek his third term as Chinese President,” said Teng Biao, a US-based Chinese human rights lawyer. "He is also telling the outside world that the hardline policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang won't change.”

Wang from NCCU said he expects the upcoming party congress to focus on the idea of "common prosperity," a policy that has been promoted and implemented by the Chinese government since last year.

Xi will also use the occasion to celebrate China's success in containing the spread of COVID-19, which reflects the Communist Party's slogan of "the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

While there is some talk about whether China's current poor economic performance would give Premier Li Keqiang an opportunity to challenge Xi, Teng Biao said there is little doubt that Xi will be re-elected at the 20th party congress.

"It's hard to find anyone with the ability to challenge him," he pointed out. "The international community should not have too much expectation about the 20th congress, as China is moving more and more towards a totalitarian system."

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

Author: William Yang (Taipei)

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