The Autonomous Region in western China is seeing dizzying growth and investment
China’s far west is called Xinjiang, which means “New Frontier” in Chinese. It’s a magical land that’s rich in history and calls to mind caravan routes and the Ancient Silk Road for those outside of China. What was once a route traversed by Marco Polo is now a crucial fulcrum in China’s sprawling belt and road initiative.
Xinjiang is a border region that in many ways is still seeking political stability. Its land has been the stage of international contests with the former USSR and now faces internal social conflicts with its Muslim ethnic minority population.
Although Xinjiang is outside China’s eleven productive clusters, economic growth and vitality are apparent in its capital city, Urumqi
Upon landing in the small but orderly airport of Urumqi, it becomes apparent that this region is a melting pot of races, cultures, and commerce. Over the last forty years, Xinjiang has welcomed Chinese people from all over the country. The 1950s saw the arrival of technicians collaborating with Russian engineers on the Kazakh border, in the 60s the region played host to those seeking safety from the Cultural Revolution, and as of late, a new wave of immigration has come to the city.
Colorful bazaars in Urumqi and Kashgar retain original character and charm as large crowds envelop them daily to do business. Going for a walk presents Uygur ethnic elderly wrapped in colorful robes.
The tension between the Muslim minority Uygur and the Han Chinese – the ethnic majority in the country – is a thorn in the side of Beijing. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the progressive independence of the neighboring republics is solved, but the issue of ethnic tension remains.
After the opening of the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe railway, 200 trains passed through the region with goods totaling over one trillion dollars
In fact, Xinjiang enjoys a great geographical advantage in the economic belt of the Silk Road. The region enjoys more than five thousand kilometers of border with key countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
This makes Xinjiang an essential gateway to China to connect with various neighboring nations as Chinese imports and exports pass through Xinjiang before being shipped to or from Central Asian markets.
The Takla Makan desert, which covers an area of over 300 thousand square kilometers, is the largest in China and the second largest sand desert in the world. Its called ‘the tomb’ for its dangerousness and the almost absence of water, and today is crossed by two highways respectively 562 and 436 km long.
These two, but essential, asphalt routes start respectively from the regional cities of Xiaotang and Minfeng and are the symbol of the powerful development of this land. Tons of products are conducted from here every day to more than 100 cities of central, western and southern Asia and to Europe. In the opposite direction, through Xinjiang, they are addressed inside China.
The development of cross-border e-commerce can help Xinjiang emerge as a storage and distribution center for Central Asian markets.
Last autumn, the first Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe Express train left Wuhan for London. In the last ten years, Chinese companies have invested 54% more YoY in the New Silk Road, with global investment between China and affiliated countries increasing 21%.
The development of cross-border e-commerce can help Xinjiang emerge as a storage and distribution center for Central Asian markets. Beijing plans to build infrastructure in Xinjiang, as well as 30 logistics parks and several free trade zones. Given all these factors, the growth of the region could take off in the coming years, creating opportunities for various support industries in the region.