China's President Xi Jinping waves following his speech after a ceremony to inaugurate the city's new leader and government in Hong Kong
China's President Xi Jinping. Selim Chtayti/Pool via REUTERS. Reuters / POOL

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang this week, making his first trip in eight years to the once-restive northwestern frontier region where the United States has accused China of genocide against the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority.

From Tuesday to Friday, Xi visited sites in Xinjiang including a cotton plantation, a trade zone and a museum, state broadcaster CCTV reported in a 34-minute evening newscast on Friday after Xi had left Xinjiang.

The United States bans cotton imports from Xinjiang over concerns about the use of forced labour. China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.

A photo by the official Xinhua news agency showed a maskless Xi surrounded by smiling and clapping residents, many of them appearing to be Uyghurs wearing ethnic costumes and Muslim prayer caps.

Xi urged Xinjiang officials to listen to the people so as to win their hearts and keep them united. He also stressed that security measures aimed at maintaining social stability should become regular.

CCTV also cited Xi as saying Islamic practices must conform to Chinese sensibilities and that Xinjiang must groom a team of "politically reliable" religious representatives.

Xinjiang had been the scene of sporadic anti-government and anti-Han Chinese violence before a crackdown that the United Nations said in 2018 had put one million Uyghurs into "massive internment camps" set up for political indoctrination.

China initially denied the existence of any camps, then said it had set up "vocational training centres" with dormitories where people can "voluntarily" check themselves in to learn about law, Chinese language and vocational skills. It said that in 2019 all trainees had "graduated".

Xinjiang has not reported any violent attacks since the establishment of the centres.

"The point of Xi's Xinjiang trip is to see the results of the policies he has put in place in recent years to stabilise Xinjiang and to conclude that his approach and strategy for Xinjiang had been successful," said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The trip marks Xi's first public appearance since he visited Hong Kong for the July 1 anniversary marking 25 years of Chinese rule over the former British colony, another territory where Beijing has dramatically tightened its control following sometimes-violent pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019.

Xi's last reported visit to Xinjiang was in 2014, when he called for an all-out "struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism", according to leaked papers reported by the New York Times. Local authorities later stepped up efforts to track, control and re-educate Uyghurs.

Xi, who has also clamped down on the once-restive Tibet Autonomous Region, last year made the first visit to the region by a Chinese leader in three decades.

Xi is poised to secure a precedent-breaking third leadership term later this year.