"The Silk Road" has had its ups and downs in the past and may yet be revitalized in the future. But regardless, you should no longer associate it with lumbering camels or endless deserts any more. It will now be comprised of a dense air transportation, rail and highway networks, and emerging global cities will appear along it.
2,000 years later, China, the cradle of the Silk Road, has drafted a grand blueprint for the rapid development and lasting stability of Xinjiang. One of the focuses of the blueprint is to revitalize the Silk Road, which connects Asia and Europe and bridges Eastern and Western civilization.
Located at the hinterland of Eurasia, Xinjiang covers an area of 1.66 million square kilometers, accounting for one sixth of China’s total land area. The Silk Road traversed Xinjiang and in total stretched for more than 7,000 kilometers. With the development of marine transport in the 1400s, however, the Silk Road was gradually abandoned and Xinjiang subsequently lost its importance in East-West trade.
The central government organized a symposium on Xinjiang-related issues in May, showing its emphasis on the construction of a logistics corridor linking Xinjiang, the inland regions and the neighboring countries in order to build Xinjiang into a platform upon which China can further open up to the outside world. Meanwhile, the central government has also decided to build economic development zones in Kashgar and Khorgos, where special economic policies will be implemented.
In addition, China has launched a huge project to aid Xinjiang. China will use all of its resources to promote the development of Xinjiang.
Experts hold that all these measures show that the central government considers Xinjiang’s further opening up internationally, as well as to other regions in China, a crucial component of national strategy, which will help to construct an overland channel linking China, Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia and Europe. Thus, China’s inland and coastal regions as well as its western and eastern regions will be further opened up to the outside world.
"In fact, this is a process to restore the prosperity of the ancient Silk Road," said Wang Ning, head of the Institute of Economics at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.
"Over recent years, Xinjiang has been facing a bottleneck in its continued development due to insufficient infrastructure, including transportation facilities, all of which has been discouraging to tourists, investors as well as in attracting talented individuals to come and settle in Xinjiang. If these issues cannot be settled properly, construction of the economic development zones in Kashgar and Khorgos will be affected, "said Wang.
Decision-makers have drafted a long-term plan.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China has urged all of China’s airlines to strengthen management of their Xinjiang-bound air routes and flights; air routes between Urumqi and large and medium-sized cities, economic centers and provincial capitals (including the capitals of autonomous regions) should be opened as soon as possible; more Urumqi-bound flights should be available. It is said that Xinjiang has planned to construct 6 new airports and there will be 22 airports in Xinjiang by the end of 2015.
From 2010 to 2020, the Ministry of Railways will invest 310 billion yuan to increase the total length of Xinjiang-based railways from 3,599 kilometers to 12,000 kilometers, essentially including all of the prefecture-level cities and 90 percent of the county-level towns into China’s larger railway network.
Over the next five years, Xinjiang will invest 120 to 140 billion yuan in building and renovating 68,000 kilometers of roads including 7,155 kilometers of highways. It is estimated that the total length of roads in Xinjiang will rise from the current 150,000 kilometers to 175,000 kilometers by 2015, and roads will be available in all villages.
Over the coming five to ten years, the middle and long-distance Asia-Europe flights from Urumqi to İstanbul, Dubai, Samarkand, Yekaterinburg, Tbilisi, Lahore, and Mashhad will be opened in Xinjiang, and more international flights from Urumqi to Tehran, Almaty and Tashkent will be available. The Xinjiang Autonomous Region will also increase the Sino-Pakistan Highway’s class and its passing capability, actively promote the initial preparations for the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, and, at the proper time, conduct research into a Sino-Pakistan railway.
"From an international perspective, China will help promote development, cooperation and stability in Central Asia as well as promote peace and development in the world by developing Xinjiang’s economy and strengthening the economic, cultural and political exchange between Xinjiang and nearby countries,” said Wang.
The central government plans to set up an “economic development area” in Kashi and Huoerguosi, located in southern and northern Xinjiang respectively. Facing central, western and southern Asia and Eastern Europe, the two border cities were once the major cities along the Silk Road. Because Kashi was located in the poor and backward area of southern Xinjiang that features a large minority and rural population, every move Kashi makes will attract widespread attention.
Although the central government didn't reveal the detailed timetable and policies, the Kashi government has created an ambitious development blueprint – they will accelerate the integration process of Kashi city and the nearby Shule County and Shufu County, and establish a “large Kashi” central city featuring an area of over 100 square kilometers and a population of over one million in order to build Kashi into a regional trade and travel center targeting central and southern Asia.
"We will also formulate preferential policies to attract investors and quality talents, which is the top priority during the construction process of the economic development area," said Ye Lin, the Deputy Commissioner of Kashi Prefectural Administrative Office.
The 66-year-old cultural scholar Liu Xuejie who has been living in Kashi for nearly half a century said that Kashi was historically an international trade port where Chinese and foreign businessmen gathered and many nationalities, cultures and religions blended successfully.
"Kashi’s characteristics should be maintained during the process of turning it into a modern and international city. The excellent ethnic cultures and traditions in the area should be protected so they will be able to continue," said Liu.
Ordinary people in local area think about the “economic development area” in a comparatively simple way.
"Economic development area? Is it the same as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone? When the economic development area is completed, it will be easier for me to sell watermelons for a higher price," said a 26-year-old farmer in the Shule County.