Beijing: In a major strategic shift, China is set to abandon its policy of military crackdown to tackle the growing problem of Islamic militancy in Xinjiang and instead focus on ensuring economic growth to maintain stability in the resource-rich region.
The Chinese government`s decision comes after a turbulent year which saw multiple terrorist attacks, including the first-ever suicide attack by Uyghur militants in Beijing, targeting the iconic Forbidden City at the Tiananmen square.
This is a "major strategic shift" to combat the militancy, state-run daily Global Times quoted officials as saying.
"The shift in strategy was a wise move by the central authority, who clearly knows the complex situation in Xinjiang," a local official said.
"While other regions can concentrate on economic growth, development would be just empty talk in Xinjiang if the security problems remain unsolved."
The shift comes close on the heels of President Xi Jinping`s landmark speech outlining new guidelines for the Muslim Uyghur natives of the province bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan and several central Asian countries.
Xi`s speech at the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) last month was not released the media but its contents were passed on to concerned officials, the daily said.
Xi`s predecessor, Hu Jintao, followed a policy of heavy military crackdown to marginalise the growth of militant groups like the Al-qaeda-backed East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Regional party chief?Zhang Chunxian said that now the focus will be to maintain social stability and an enduring peace to address the concerns of Uyghurs, who are agitated over the increasing influx of majority Han Chinese people in the hydrocarbons-rich province.
There were at least seven terrorist attacks and two riots in Xinjiang last year, leading to dozens of deaths. After the violence reached a peak ahead of the fourth anniversary of the deadly July 5 riots, the regional government staged flag marches of armed police across the region to deter terrorists.
"The new strategy is not a denial of the region`s policy since 2010. It aims for a combination of maintaining stability and economic development, which will be realised in a groundbreaking manner," said Turgunjan Tursun, a research fellow at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.
The new policy will focus on labour-intensive industries to create enough jobs, he said. Meanwhile, veteran military commander and anti-terrorism expert Major General Pan Liangshi took charge of securing the Tiananmen Square on Tuesday.
Pan`s predecessor, Lieutenant General Zheng Chuanfu, was shifted to the post of deputy commander of the Beijing Military Area Command, one of the seven military commands of the Chinese mainland, following last year`s attack.
Some saw Pan`s promotion as a strategic move to further strengthen the capital`s safety after the terrorist attack in October, when a jeep ploughed through a group of tourists in front of the Tiananmen rostrum, killing five people and injuring 40 others.
The attack was reportedly carried out by three members of the ETIM. All three were killed in the incident.