Advancing “Ethnic Unity” and “De-Extremization”: Ideational Governance in Xinjiang Under “New Circumstances” (2012–2017)

Ondřej Klimeš, Advancing “Ethnic Unity” and “De-Extremization”: Ideational Governance in Xinjiang Under “New Circumstances” (2012–2017),” Journal of Chinese Political Science 23, 1 February 2018: 413–436.


Klimeš focuses on the paradigm shift happening under the Xi Jinping era in China’s approach towards Xinjiang.


The central role of ideology has been one of the key features of the political system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949. One of the places where the phenomenon can be observed is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a vast, important, and rich borderland area inhabited by some 10 million Turkic Muslim Uyghurs. Since 1949, the central government has managed to win only a limited degree of Uyghur support for its policies, leaving the region riven with protest and violence. The central government has therefore sought to devise and implement policies so as to simultaneously address multiple aspects of Xinjiang’s reality, including ideational affairs. This paper examines the party-state’s ideational governance, i.e. efforts to define and regulate Uyghur values, beliefs, and loyalties so that they are instrumental in maintaining the political stability of the PRC. Firstly, the novel approach to Xinjiang policy adopted by the Xi leadership during its first functional term (2012–2017) is examined, namely its concern with Xinjiang’s growing geopolitical significance and with the security dimension of the Xinjiang problem. Two main focuses of Xinjiang governance are introduced, particularly the advancement of centripetal inter-ethnic relations (officially called “ethnic unity”) and the eradication of religious or cultural practices deemed as potentially subversive (“de-extremization”). Secondly, the ideology relating to Xinjiang is examined within the framework of the CPC’s national-level ideology. Thirdly, new legislation, by which the authorities seek to legitimate Xinjiang policies, is considered. Fourthly, several grassroots “ethnic unity” and “de-extremization” activities are reviewed as examples of the party-state’s efforts to use the Uyghur religion and other intangible domains as ideational apparatuses to inculcate desirable political values. The conclusions reached in this article raise the broader question as to whether the party-state’s resolve to strengthening its ideational governance over the Uyghurs will bring about a change in the security situation in Xinjiang.

Keywords: Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, Ideology, Propaganda, Religion