Notes on Xi Jinping’s speech to the 3rd Xinjiang Central Work Forum, 25–26 September 2020

James A. Millward
27 min readSep 27, 2020


James Millward

These are my quick notes on reading General Secretary / Chairman Xi’s most recent speech about XUAR. Comments and corrections encouraged (here or on Twitter: @JimMillward )

For convenience, I pasted the Xinhua read-out of the speech below my notes.

  1. Separatism? Extremism? Terrorism?

Though that might not ever be highlighted in a speech of this nature, it is interesting that Xi never mentions the large network of facilities which PRC calls vocational schools (and outside observers note are in fact massive internment facilities). More than that, he barely mentions security, beyond the usual mentions of “stability.” There is no mention of “the three evils” or the phrase’s components (separatism, extremism, terrorism). I haven’t read his previous speeches of this nature — it would be useful to compare this to what he said at the first and second Central Xinjiang Work Forums. Certainly compared other with past rhetoric about Xinjiang, the absence of discussion of the “three evils” is noteworthy.

2. Vast deficits — and questions about the beneficiaries of outside subsidies

The primary substance of the speech is the listing of economic statistics regarding on gross regional product, employment, people and villages lifted from poverty, provision of healthcare and so on. I’m not really qualified to analyze these statistics, as I haven’t worked a lot with PRC reported economic statistics and am not an economist. But a couple things jump out at me.

XJP notes that the region’s general budgetary revenue grew from 128 billion to 158 billion yuan from 2014–2019 (he seems to be using a six-year period for all these figures; of course, stopping before COVID19 hit in early 2020). This amounts to an increase of 23% over the period. [There seems to be some problem with the average annual figure given for Xinjiang revenue increase: the speech says 一般公共预算收入由1282.3亿元增长到1577.6亿元,年均增长5.7%. But the total increase of 295.3亿元amounts to an increase of 23%, which divided over 6 years amounts to an average annual increase of 3.8%; if here he’s using a 5 year period, the average would amount to only 4.6% annually. I might be doing something wrong, but I don’t see how you get 5.7% annual increase from these figures.]

During the same period, central government financial transfer subsidies to XUAR and the Bingtuan (note XUAR and Bingtuan are mentioned separately, but the subsidy figure is aggregate) rose from 263 to 422 billion yuan, a 60% increase). There were also the transfers / investments from 19 provinces and cities of eastern China under the “Counterpart Assistance Program” (Aid Xinjiang) to both XUAR and the Bingtuan (again, mentioned separately, but the total is aggregated) amounting to 96.4 billion yuan over 6 years. Xi doesn’t give the yearly amounts, so we can’t add them up ourselves, but he says that overall central subsidies to XUAR and Bingtuan amounted to over 2 trillion yuan, to which we can add the roughly 100 billion from the Counterpart Assistance program to approximate that from 2014–19, PRC central government and 19 provinces and cities in eastern China poured at least 2.1 trillion yuan into XUAR and the Bingtuan, while XUAR’s own revenue increased by only 30 billion. Between 2014 and 2019, outside finances coming into Xinjiang from the center and eastern Chinese provinces and cities increased by over 60%, compared to 23% increase of XUAR’s own revenue. (This XUAR revenue doesn’t seem to include the Bingtuan’s revenue, if any. I don’t know what a province or region’s revenue derives from: I presume taxation of some sort. Someone more qualified than I might try to figure out if so many people as Xi claims were lifted from poverty, how much should that have increased provincial revenue? Is this 23% increase over 6 years measuring more XUAR population in gainful employment?)

Here’s the bottom line: Not only is the CCP still ruling Xinjiang at a huge deficit, but the size of that deficit has ballooned over the past 6 years. The difference between outside subsidy and XUAR’s own revenue has grown from 135 billion in 2014 to 264 billion in 2019, a 48% increase. Though Xi doesn’t mention this, the figures suggest the huge size of expenditure on the camps, new prisons, orphanages and other infrastructure related to the assimilationist campaign of the past few years, as well as that related to hiring security personnel. The figures in this speech thus also corroborate the earlier research by Adrian Zenz and others regarding the cost of the building and running the camps system. It was in part these huge budget spikes that tipped researchers off that something big was going on in Xinjiang.

And, it’s critical to ask, how much of this more than 2.1 trillion yuan went to the Bingtuan (XPCC), which is over 80% Han in membership, and has been recruiting more people from eastern China to move to Xinjiang, and building new cities for Han people, as well as prisons, camps, and factories for poor Uyghurs during this period? The Bingtuan is also supporting a couple million non-productive personnel on pensions, and continues to pay for free education and healthcare for all its members — services just beginning to be extended (according to Xi’s speech) to poor Uyghurs in the southern part of the region.

This is a key distinction, one that Xi’s figures carefully conceal. We need to see the breakdown of central government / Counterpart Assistance subsidies to the Bingtuan as opposed to the XUAR. And it would be great to see that as a per capita figure. My guess is that the per capita payments to the Bingtuan (80+% Han) is a good deal higher than to Uyghur and other native Xinjiang population outside the Bingtuan — even before taking into account that some large percentage of the XUAR subsidy is being spent on security as opposed to real schools, clinics, and so forth.

Local govt. administrations in XUAR are also building internment camps and security infrastructure, of course, and factories built by the Counterpart Assistance Program in partnership with XUAR local administrations have also employed Uyghur workers from the camps system and broader “educational transformation” system. Some were built adjacent to the camps. So subsidies to XUAR government are also supporting the gulag. But the Bingtuan is the leading institution promoting the settler colonization of the Uyghur region by Han Chinese. This is obliquely referred to in Xi’s call to “Ceaselessly strengthen the Bingtuan’s organizational advantage and mobilization ability so that it may better achieve its special function.” 不断增强兵团的组织优势和动员能力,更好发挥特殊作用. It would be good to learn more about that “special function.”

All these figures, including the increase in annual gross regional product from 920 billion to 1.36 billion reflect the vast investment of outside funds into the region to build the high tech, internment, and coerced labor systems.

3. Ideological language about ethnicity

There is no talk here about Xinjiang’s minzu being like seeds of a pomegranate (i.e. a composite of separate entities), though that has been part of the ideological vocabulary used regarding Xinjiang ethnicities in recent years. Instead, another catchphrase enjoys pride of place: 铸牢中华民族共同体意识为主线. “Take firmly casting Zhonghua collective consciousness as the main line.” Zhonghua is the politico-ethnic identity that in theory incorporates all the 56 minzu within it. Note the metaphorical term choulao, which none of my dictionaries (or Google translate) inclue as a word: is it a neologism? Chou means to cast, as in casting iron or bronze. So it is a melting pot analogy for ethnicity, not a composite one, promoted here. Likewise, everything in this ethnicity paragraph of the speech is about the “Zhonghua” national identity, not individual ethnic identities of Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrghyz, Han, Hui or others. Most telling is the phrase 新疆各民族是中华民族血脉相连的家庭成员, “Every minzu (nationality, ethnic group) of Xinjiang is a family-member linked to Chinese (zhonghua) bloodlines.” This phrase referencing blood (hence genetic descent) is not brand new; it’s been around since at least 2018 according to my quick Google search. But then, notably, it was used by the Urumchi Mayor Yasin Sidiq (Ya-sheng Si-di-ke 牙生·司地克 ) an August 2018 editorial that infamously and falsely claimed that Uyghurs are unrelated to the Turkic peoples from the time of the medieval Turkic Khaghate. The argument that all non-Han groups in the former Qing empire were originally racially Chinese was promoted by Chiang Kai-shek in his China’s Destiny (1943), but later abandoned after 1949, when the CCP embraced Fei Xiaotong’s 多元一体格局 “many origins, one body framework” and implemented a multi-national nation system similar to that of the USSR. “Many origins, one body” is still the official formulation regarding ethnicity in PRC, as far as I know, and Xi quotes it again here. Fei also talked about melding and fusion of nationalities. But I don’t think Fei argued that all 56 minzu were originally linked to Chinese bloodlines. The General Secretary’s evocation of bloodlines in comments about minzu in Xinjiang (and here may not be the first time; I haven’t researched all his speeches on the subject) marks the transition to racial vocabulary, an official endorsement of the argument that Uyghurs and other native peoples in Xinjiang are genetically Chinese (and thereby Zhonghua becomes a racial term, not just a political one). In the previous official formulation regarding ethnicity in China, Zhonghua was seen as a culmination of national processes under the leadership of the Party, a merging of diverse elements into one (a kind of e pluribus unum), a historical capstone rather than a racial foundation. Now Xi’s language flips that on its head: all the diverse minzu are biologically linked in the past to “Zhonghua,” which is very hard to distinguish from Han. This “consciousness” is to be inculcated through education to all levels and groups in society, the paragraph continues, and it is explicitly linked to the campaign to Sinicize (here the country name is used: 中国化) the Islamic religion — which we know means in practice razing mosques, flattening shrines and ripping down domes.

Xi Jinping speech at Third Xinjiang Central Work Conference (Xinhua read-out / write-up of the speech)

习近平:坚持依法治疆团结稳疆文化润疆富民兴疆长期建疆 努力建设新时代中国特色社会主义新疆

2020–09–26 18:40:54 来源: 新华网




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James A. Millward

James A. Millward 米華健 is professor of history at Georgetown University and mandolinist for By & By.