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Xinjiang Party chief warns of 'political struggle' in region

Xinjiang Party chief Zhang Chunxian has recently warned of an escalation of "infiltration and sabotage activities in the name of religion" and called the battle with extremism a "serious political struggle."He also laid out a new set of standards regarding what virtues the government is looking for in religious leaders, placing patriotism above all other requirements.

Zhang's comments highlight the Chinese authorities' determination to combat extremism as they see this problem not only as a security threat but also as a political danger as extremists seek to topple the government, analysts said.

They also pointed out that the authorities are strengthening national identity education to help bring people of different ethnic groups together.

Zhang, secretary of the Communist Party of China Xinjiang Committee, gave the speech at a conference of religious leaders in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on Sunday.

More than 700 religious leaders from six different religions, including Islam, Buddhism and Christianity, attended the conference.

"There have been escalated infiltration and sabotage activities from foreign hostile forces that are disguised as religion," Zhang said, adding that the battle against religious extremism is a serious political struggle and there is no room for conciliation.

"Religious extremism is not about religion. It's a political force with an agenda that goes completely against this government. Especially in Xinjiang, it's a life-and-death fight," Turgunjan Tursun, a research fellow at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Wang Guoxiang, an expert from the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said the term "political struggle" could also imply that a more coordinated effort on the national level is needed.

Terrorists in the past year have attacked train stations, police stations and government buildings, mostly in Xinjiang, throwing bombs at police cars and running over civilians with vehicles.

Xinjiang police busted 181 terror groups in 2014 and 96 percent of terrorist plots were disrupted at an early stage, the local government said.

Zhang also brought up a new set of standards that specify what attributes the government sees as necessary for religious figures, in which patriotism was placed above all other qualities but "maintaining local stability" was absent, despite featuring on the list of virtues that was used in 2014.

Zhang also called for the strengthened recognition of national identity and Chinese culture.

"What these religious figures can do is limited. The government has come to understand that their work should focus more on preaching and drawing people to the government's side instead of actually stopping terror activities," Tursun said. 

"As for the national identity and Chinese culture, all 56 ethnic groups are part of the Chinese population. You can be a Uyghur and Chinese. The term is comprehensive," he noted.

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