Xinjiang at the forefront of China's opening-up

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/9/2 14:58:50

An observation tower currently under construction in Horgos, will be the highest tower in western China. It will be used for tourism and commercial purposes and highlights the city's growth from a small border crossing into a significant city in the region.

The city of Horgos was set up in 2014 on the China-Kazakhstan border, an area that was barren land just a few years ago. Now all kinds of buildings line the streets all the way to the border.

Inside a red building that resembles the China Pavilion from the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, Cao Jian, a local official, was busy meeting investors from around the world.

On Aug. 22, 60 investors signed contracts with the local government with a combined worth of 617 million yuan (93.5 million US dollars). Over recent years, nearly 12,000 merchants have settled in the border city, bringing in 200 billion yuan of investment.

About 3,500 km from Beijing, Horgos was once a busy point on the ancient Silk Road. With the creation of the Belt and Road Initiative, it has once again come to the forefront of China's opening-up to the world.

Located in the far west of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, it is one of the most inland points on earth. However, its residents don't regard it as remote, as they are in the heart of the Eurasian continent.

In the first half of 2017, Xinjiang's investment growth topped 24.6 percent, ranking first in China. International investors include Volkswagen, Carlsberg and Honeywell.

The China-Kazakhstan border cooperation center in Horgos, built upon a five-sq-km area right on the border with land contributed by both countries, is the first of its kind in the world. Duty-free goods from Paris, Milan, Tokyo and Seoul stack the shelves. Trucks line up waiting for clearance.

Cao said about 20,000 people move freely in the area every day, 15,000 of them are Chinese, and the rest come primarily from central Asia and European countries.

A model in the city planning exhibition hall shows factories, a conference center and an international college which are expected to be built in the near future. A film set has also been planned.

High speed railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines and flight routes follow the ancient trading route, which was once the domain of camels, silk, tea leaves and ceramics.

Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, which administers Horgos, has also benefited from the Belt and Road Initiative with a boom in tourism.

Over 40 ethnic minorities live in harmony in the prefecture.

Gao Tianshan, a local official said the combination of Ili's untainted natural landscapes and convenient urban areas are the main drawcards for the millions of tourists.

The local government is actively restoring its historical sites, including the Ili Garrison.

Established more than 300 years ago after driving out foreign aggression, the garrison has acted as a symbol of state sovereignty ever since.

Like many other cities in Xinjiang, banners and signs promoting the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism can be seen in Ili. Residents are encouraged to report information about terrorism.

On July 5, 2009, terrorists connected to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement killed nearly 200 people and injured another 1,700 in Urumqi, the regional capital.

A tourism official said that Nalat Grassland Resort, now receives about 10,000 tourists per day, exceeding the number before the July 5 attacks.

Nurjuma, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl, lives with her family in the grassland resort. The family rent horses to tourists. Their daily income reaches 300 yuan during peak season.

On the other side of the Tianshan mountains and across the Taklimakan desert, Kashgar in southern Xinjiang had seen sporadic terrorist attacks. However, the steadily increasing number of tourists shows confidence in the city's safety. Flights from the regional capital are full, with both Chinese and foreign tourists.

Kashgar Old City holds grand opening ceremonies every morning, with performers dressed in traditional Uygur costumes welcoming tourists from around the world.

Inside the Ancient Alley teahouse Salahidin serves traditional Uygur tea and drinks. Soon he will depart for the south China city of Shenzhen to start his freshman year at college, majoring in software engineering.

The teahouse is run by his family. Business is good, he said, with a daily turnover of 2,000 yuan during summer.

The renovations of the old city have improved residents' standard of living. Sewerage and garbage disposal facilities, clean and dry alleys and green areas did not exist prior to the development.

The Uygur style of architecture and decoration have been restored, with craftsman selling pottery, iron and copperware from their doorsteps.

Shalamet Guli is the owner of a local restaurant. The mother of three said she has so many customers that she hardly has time to attend prayers, although the mosque is just steps away. Her restaurant offers traditional Uygur food, music and performances.

A railway line to Pakistan is planned and several airports are under construction in towns near Kashgar.

Poverty alleviation has always been high on the agenda of the regional government.

Last year Nurjuma's family received a subsidy of 200,000 yuan to help them build a new house, and a cow to raise as part of the poverty alleviation efforts.

The regional government has sent officials to impoverished villages, to purge extremism and help to educate illiterate locals and teach them how to increase their income to lift their families out of poverty.

"Life is getting better for my family. When I grow up I want to go to college and become a teacher," Nurjuma said.

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