China promotes governor of troubled Xinjiang to top energy post

BEIJING - China has promoted the ethnic Uighur governor of the troubled far western region of Xinjiang to the country's top energy policy body, Chinese media reported on Wednesday, but left unclear who would replace him.

Nur Bekri will become director of the National Energy Administration, and also a deputy head of the planning body the National Development and Reform Commission, respected business magazine Caixin said on its website.

Nur Bekri will be one of the few ethnic minorities to assume a senior position in central government, underscoring his loyalty to the party where top posts are almost all held by majority Han Chinese.

The official Xinjiang Daily said Nur Bekri's position as Xinjiang's deputy Communist Party boss would be taken by Shohrat Zakir, a former mayor of regional capital Urumqi.

It did not say if he would also assume the position of governor, but as deputy party chief, he would be an obvious candidate.

Xinjiang, home of the Muslim Uighur people, has been racked by violence blamed by the government on Islamist extremists who want to set up an independent state called East Turkestan. Hundreds have died in the last two years or so.

The Xinjiang Daily quoted the region's party chief Zhang Chunxian as praising Nur Bekri as an "outstanding ethnic minority cadre" with all the qualifications for leadership and someone who has made "important contributions" to Xinjiang's stability.

"On big issues of right and wrong he is clear-headed and makes public his stance," Zhang said.

Xinjiang, energy-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, is crucial to China's growing energy needs as well as its security.

Nur Bekri's appointment highlights the importance of Xinjiang as an energy hub, well-endowed with oil, gas, coal and minerals. But it remains too early to judge whether it signals the start of a drive to open up the tightly state-controlled energy sector.

"Xinjiang is potentially a major energy province, and as the chairman of the region he certainly is the most experienced in its energy business," said Lin Boqiang, director of the China Centre for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.