The Alataw Pass, a remotely-located port in the Gobi desert of Xinjiang, is becoming an increasingly important trade gateway connecting China's inland cities to Central Asia and Europe.
Dozens of international trains are running to and from the port everyday with a total freight volume of 74,000 tonnes and foreign trade volume of nearly 50 million U.S. dollars. The Alataw Pass has become a key entrance for energy resources of strategic importance such as crude oil, metal ores and steel.
The prosperity of the port is a reflection of China's effort in opening up westward, as part of a strategy to develop the Silk Road Economic Belt that spans the Eurasian continent.
Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the idea of the economic belt during his visit to Central Asia in September 2013, eyeing a cultural revival of the Silk Road, which historically linked China with Central Asia and Europe, as a way of developing political and economic ties.
After the Silk Road Economic Belt agreement was signed in November 2013 by 24 cities in eight countries along the Silk Road, a series of Chinese inland cities including Chongqing, Chengdu, Zhengzhou and Xi'an have successively opened international shuttle trains to the Eurasian continent.
Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the starting point of the ancient silk road, has been carrying out economic and technological cooperation with countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Fang Weifeng, director of Shaanxi development and reform commission, said, the Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group has set up an oil refining program in Kyrgyzstan with an annual capacity of 800,000 tonnes.
Other western provinces and regions have also been extending their reach to the west. Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region vowed to enhance agricultural and energy cooperation with Central Asia. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, heavily-populated by Muslims Hui ethnic minority, has been developing Muslim food and products manufacturing bases with the purpose to promote trade with the Muslim countries.
Yang Shu, professor of Lanzhou University in Gansu Province, said, speeding up westward expansion is of great strategic importance to China. With international trade shrinking after the global financial crisis, China's economic slowdown is urging the country to further tap the development potential of its west through westward opening.
The campaign can also help bridge the development gap between China's western areas and more prosperous east, he said.
The global financial crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis has hit the economic development of Russia, Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. The economic belt can bring opportunities to those countries, he said.
However, China has to be cautious when deepening cooperation with countries to its west.
Xing Guangcheng, an expert with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China should seek to develop more stakeholders by building joint ventures when innitiating programs in the Central Asian countries in order to reduce risks.