Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for the hardline approach to dealing with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang to continue, despite international criticisms.

Delivering a major speech on Saturday in Urumqi, the region’s capital city, Xi stressed that “social stability” remained the top priority there, as he highlighted the need for counterterrorism measures and further “Sinocizing” of Islam, the predominant religion for the Uyghurs who make up the majority of the indigenous population in the area.

China’s Xinjiang policies have come under international scrutiny in recent years, culminating in a U.N. human rights report that found Beijing to have potentially committed crimes against humanity. The U.S., which along with Europe has sanctioned some Xinjiang officials, has labeled the situation a genocide.

Xi, though, said he “recognizes” the Xinjiang policy in his Saturday speech.

“[We] have to combine the anti-terrorism and anti-secessionist struggle with the legalized and regularized efforts for stability maintenance,” Xi said during a surprise stopover on his way back from the BRICS summit in South Africa. “The Sinofication of Islam should be deepened in order to effectively handle all sorts of illegal religious activities.”

China will continue to teach Uyghurs the standard Chinese language, and to reallocate them for work outside the region, Xi said.

Activists have long said these policies are designed to dilute the ethnic identity, while Beijing says economic development is key to social stability.

“Xi stressed the need for more positive propaganda to show an open, confident Xinjiang,” according to state media CCTV. “Targeted efforts should be made to rebut any inaccurate and negative press.”





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