BEIJING – BEIJING (AP) — China plans to inject nearly $1.5 billion into a western region that is the site of simmering unrest, boosting its economy in hopes of reducing ethnic tension after riots last year killed nearly 200 people.
Various regions across Xinjiang, including 82 cities and towns, will received investment from 19 provinces and municipalities around China next year to help improve housing, employment and education opportunities under the plan, the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported Wednesday.
The plan aims to increase living standards, build the region into a "well-off society" after 10 years and maintain long-term stability, the newspaper said, citing a report in Oriental Outlook magazine, a publication of the official Xinhua News Agency.
The report in the magazine was published late last month. No reason was given why the China Daily did not report the news until Wednesday.
Xinjiang has been the site of simmering unrest for years, with ethnic Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) saying they have been marginalized as more and more Han Chinese move into the area. Chinese experts say the plan, if successful, will help ease those tensions and any potential unrest.
"Improving Xinjiang's economy is the only way the government can stabilize the region, not by guns or increased security," said Hu Zhaoliang, a professor of regional development at Peking University, who has researched the region.
"By helping locals with language barriers and giving them better opportunities, the resentment will slowly wane," Hu told The Associated Press.
The plan calls for pairing financially strong regions such as manufacturing-powerhouse Guangdong province and Beijing with less-developed cities in Xinjiang, such as Hotan and Kashgar, the China Daily reported. It did not give financial figures but said areas outside Xinjiang will be required to provide training and education in addition to financial support.
The program will be launched in 2011 and is expected to yield significant results within five years, Vice Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying by the China Daily.
The ethnic problems in the far-western region boiled over last July into riots that also left nearly 1,600 people hurt.
China's worst ethnic violence in decades began when Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority ethnic group, clashed with police during a protest in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi.
The Uighurs see Xinjiang as their homeland and resent the Han Chinese who have moved into the region in recent decades. They say the Han have unfairly benefited from the riches of Xinjiang, a strategically vital Central Asian region with significant oil and gas deposits.
Han Chinese in Xinjiang accuse Uighurs of being more concerned with religion than business, and unfairly favored by quotas for government jobs and university places.
China blames the rioting on overseas-based groups agitating for greater Uighur rights in Xinjiang, but has presented no direct evidence. The region was smothered in heavy security following the violence.
"If China had acted sooner, not as much resentment and anger would have been built up in the region," said Hu. "Now, with this new plan, the government is hoping to create more stability and prevent unrest."
China's leaders, who recently replaced Xinjiang's unpopular Communist Party boss, Wang Lequan, are expected to hold a major development meeting later this month on the region.
China's other major ethnic area, Tibet, has also suffered from tensions, and the government has poured billions of dollars into the region, encouraging development of transportation and other industries in the long-isolated region.
China has touted its success in developing Tibet's economy, creating jobs and substantially raising the standard of living. But critics worry the rush into Tibet could wreck much of the high-altitude region's delicate ecosystem, and an influx of the majority ethnic Han Chinese threatens its Buddhist culture and traditional way of life.