On Thursday, Xinjiang’s Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian led the Xinjiang delegation’s meeting at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. In the wake of the deadly March 1 attack in Kunming, Zhang faced a barrage of questions about the rise of terrorism within China and the government’s response. As the Global Times reported, Zhang fired back at arguments (mainly in the West) that China’s crackdown in Xinjiang pushed more Uyghurs to engage in violent activities. He said growing terrorist activities by Xinjiang separatists are “a result of the international spreading of conservative or extremist forces” rather than an indication that China’s policies were failing. “Violent terrorism isn’t a result of our crackdown, but an inevitable phenomenon of society,” Zhang said. “It is because we have been taking measures that we were able to contain it so far.” This suggests that China is not planning to alter its strategy for dealing with terrorism, other than increasing the scale or intensity of its anti-terrorism “crackdown.” According to South China Morning Post, Zhang and the rest of Xinjiang’s government will be working with the new National Security Commission, led by President Xi Jinping, to ensure security.
Zhang also claimed that around 90 percent of violent terrorists use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or other means to get around China’s Great Firewall. This means preventing the spread of terrorism could be a task that falls under the purview of China’s new central Internet security and informatization leading group, headed up by President Xi Jinping himself. Xi had already indicated that, in addition to its goals of making China a “cyber power” and strengthening defenses against external cyber threats, the group would look to increase control over China’s internet. Preventing terrorist videos and other materials from being accessed within China will certainly be high on the group’s to-do list in the wake of the Kunming attack.
Back in December, Global Voices Online claimed that “prolonged network shutdowns have become a regular occurrence in Uyghur and Tibetan minority regions of western China.” If Zhang’s comments are any indication, these internet blackouts might become even more common in Xinjiang as the government seeks to prevent would-be terrorists from accessing training materials.
In other China news, the Second Session of the 12th National People’s Congress opened in Beijing this week. Many of the headlines concerning China this week were related to speeches and remarks made by Chinese Communist Party (CPC) officials at the NPC. For those who can’t get enough NPC coverage, the official English website of the National People’s Congress can be found here (the Chinese version is here). Here are some highlights from the NPC so far:
Premier Li Keqiang gave his first government work report, highlighting the successes of the year-old Xi-Li government but more importantly laying out priorities for 2014. Not surprisingly, reform was a constant theme, as the CPC promised to continue its efforts to rebalance China’s economy, combat corruption and pollution, and relieve poverty.
China’s defense budget was presented to the NPC for approval. The budget called for a 12.2 percent increase, officially kicking off the yearly ritual of foreign defense analysts frowning at China’s growing military expenditures. In response, China’s NPC Spokeswoman Fu Ying told reporters, “Indeed, certain countries have been selling the idea of China as a major threat. But we Chinese might ask, can a prosperous country such as China really achieve peace without a strong national defense?”
In his press conference, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei hinted that China is not tied to the 7.5 percent growth target mentioned by Premier Li in his work report. He told reporters, “Whether the final reading is at a touch more or less than the 7.5 percent target is not that important. Employment is the key.” As part of a bid to keep unemployment low, Lou said that China will focus on encouraging job creation in the service sector—also a key part of China’s economic rebalancing plan.
China may be downplaying its overall economic growth target, but Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told the press that he is confident China will meet its goal of increasing foreign trade by 7.5 percent. As part of China’s overall trade strategy, Gao stressed the CPC’s plan to continue economic “opening up,” including an emphasis on free trade agreements. The Sydney Morning Herald noted in particular optimism on Gao’s part that China and Australia could complete their FTA negotiations soon, possibly by the end of the year.
Those eager to hear about China’s foreign policy goals for 2014 will have to wait a bit longer—Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to give a press conference Saturday morning, Beijing time.