Xinjiang set to embrace Silk Road Economic Belt initiatives

2015-04-02 08:42Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping

When a long-awaited plan for building the Silk Road Economic Belt was rolled out Saturday, regular cross-border buses connecting China's westernmost region of Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan had already been running for nearly a month.

The plan called for Xinjiang to serve as "a key transportation, trade, logistics, culture, science and education center" and a "core area" on the Silk Road Economic Belt, a China-proposed initiative to boost cooperation with Central, South and West Asian countries.

The plan was issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, and the ministries of foreign affairs and commerce last weekend at the 2015 annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in south China's Hainan Province.

Bus services linking Kashgar and Jalal-Abad, Artux and Osh, four important posts along the Silk Road Economic Belt, were launched more than a decade ago, but they were later reduced to seasonal operations due to a shortage of passengers.

As regional economic integration deepens, the bus services have resumed since March, which is among Xinjiang's efforts to build a transport hub in the heartland of the Eurasian continent. Ever since 2014, when the Belt was proposed, Xinjiang has supported road transport projects with neighboring countries such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Freight services linking Urumqi, the regional capital, and Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Georgia were launched last year, slashing the travel time from inland provinces to Europe to less than 18 days from 40 days by sea.

Xinjiang has so far opened 107 international road transport routes to adjacent countries, accounting for 43 percent of the total number in China, according to transport authorities of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The regional government is also seeking to connect its power grid with central Asian countries. An industrial insider from the State Grid Corporation of China told Xinhua that a project connecting power grids in China and Pakistan is being discussed. If approved, it will bring development opportunities to Pakistan and neighboring Kashgar City in south Xinjiang.

In the plan, the Silk Road Economic Belt focuses on connecting China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe as well as linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

"The programs of development will be open and inclusive, not exclusive. They will be a real chorus of all countries along the routes, not a solo for China itself," Chinese President Xi Jinping told the 2015 BFA conference.

Chen Bing, economics professor at Xinjiang University, pinned great expectations on the newly released plan. Chen said Xinjiang, which faces two 1.3-billion markets (domestic population to its east and another 1.3 billion people in central Asian countries), has an unlimited development potential.

"Major infrastructure projects including roads, railway and energy corridors along the Belt will boost region-coordinated development in Xinjang and benefit the ethnic minority population," Chen said.

Zhou Qing'an, a researcher at the Center for International Communications Studies at Tsinghua University, said Xinjiang's abundant energy resources and cultural diversity will play an important role in attracting a new round of investment in infrastructure construction and regional interconnectivity.

Zhou's comment echoed the initiatives in the plan, which have been established on the principles of openness and cooperation, harmony and inclusiveness, market operations and mutual benefits.

In June 2014, 31 tourism experts and administrators from 14 countries gathered in Urumqi to discuss tourism infrastructure and international tourism cooperation.

However, implementation will probably become a difficult issue in the future, said He Weigang, vice principal of the Communist Party school of Urumqi, adding detailed policy design was needed.

"Without adequate determination and a method for implementation, a top-level policy, no matter how good it sounds, inevitably becomes a hollow slogan at the local level," he said.

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