The Belt and Road Initiative has made the landlocked Ningxia Hui autonomous region the frontier for opening-up and taking the lead in economic cooperation with Arab and other majority-Muslim countries, the region's top official said.
"Businesses from Arab countries have shown increasing interest in seeking cooperation opportunities with us after the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative," Li Jianhua, Party chief of Ningxia, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.[Special coverage]
The initiative, proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to revive the ancient Silk Road with a focus on trade and infrastructure.
"Although Ningxia has no land or seaports, the initiative has put us on the main stage of opening-up," Li said. The region will become a strategic transit point on the economic belt, he said.
Ningxia is the home of more than 20 percent of China's Hui people, the majority of whom are Muslim. The regional government believes that a resulting mutual understanding in religion and culture has given the region advantages in working with Arab and other Muslim countries in the sectors of halal food and energy.
The region has deepened cooperation with those countries and others covered by the Belt and Road Initiative with the central government's backing. In May 2016, Ningxia built an industrial park in Oman that has attracted 14 investment projects. Chinese companies will soon occupy space in the industrial park it built in Saudi Arabia. Ningxia also plans to build an industrial park in Mauritania. Those facilities will serve as platforms, providing services for Chinese companies.
Ningxia also will step up the process of setting up support centers in the region to better help Chinese and Arab companies in technology exchanges and solving disputes, Li said.
To improve connectivity, Ningxia has started the construction of three high-speed railways and launched 11 international air routes.
"The popularity of the flight between the regional capital of Yinchuan and Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, has gone beyond our expectations," he said. Dubai-based Emirates airline launched its first direct flight between the two cities in May 2016.
Ningxia this year will host the third China-Arab States Expo, a trade and cultural event meant to deepen cooperation with Arab countries.
Li promised to provide better services and reduce barriers for companies to settle in Ningxia and its overseas industrial parks.