BEIJING – The Chinese government will spend 1.875 billion yuan ($299 million) to improve irrigation systems in the heavily ethnic Uighur southern part of the violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang, state news agency Xinhua said on Saturday.
The government has increasingly turned its focus to development in southern Xinjiang in recent years, in an implicit recognition of the economic causes of some of the unrest there.
Xinjiang, a huge region bordering Central Asia, has long been a security worry for Beijing, which has led a massive clamp down after deadly bouts of ethnic violence it blames on Islamist and separatist extremists amongst the Uighur population.
Xinhua said the funds will be used to upgrade irrigation facilities and promote water-saving technology to boost farm output in southern Xinjiang, where it said most the region’s poorest people live.
Southern Xinjiang is a major producer of cotton and fruit.
“However, a lack of water and outdated irrigation systems have long hampered agricultural development in the region,” Xinhua said. It did not provide a time frame for the investment.
Aksu, Kashgar and Hotan in southern Xinjiang are among the poorest parts of China, with more than 1.6 million people living below the poverty line as of the end of 2017, the report added.
These three areas have also been at the epicenter of what China terms its war on terror, with hundreds having died in violence over the past few years.
The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language.
Rights groups and exiled Uighurs say repressive Chinese government policies are more to blame for the unrest than any organized Islamist or separatist groups. China denies any repression in Xinjiang.
But recognizing the economic roots of some of the violence and frustration of many young Uighurs at missing out on China’s economic boom, Beijing has increased its focus on southern Xinjiang, pumping in money and encouraging development.