The change came amid a wider reshuffle ahead of next year’s 20th party congress, scheduled for the autumn. It is not clear whether the move signals a rethink in China’s overall approach to Xinjiang. Beijing would be sensitive to any interpretation that it was bowing to international pressure. Some Chinese observers have noted Chen may be promoted further during the party congress. Others say his replacement, Ma, may focus more on the region’s economic development.
Chen, 66, was appointed party secretary of Xinjiang in 2016. He is one of the 25 members of China’s politburo and was placed on a sanctions list last yearby the US.