Sultan M Hali
LOCATED in the far north west of China, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region covers an area of 1.66 million square kilometers. This is the biggest administrative division of China in terms of land mass. In the near past, the western region, which now comprises Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, was less developed as compared to the Eastern Region. This disparity is about to change, because of President Xi Jinping’s visionary mega project, the New Silk Road or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since Xinjiang forms its core. Currently, nearly 43 journalists from China and 22 foreign countries including Turkey, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Russia, Morocco and Singapore are on a ten days’ tour to participate in a media event themed “Approaching the Core Zone (Xinjiang) of the Silk Road Economic Belt”. Chinese government and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region planned the tour meticulously, incorporating various aspects of BRI and how the core zone is contributing to success of the mega project.
Xinjiang borders eight countries from northeast to Southwest, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India with the longest borderline in the country. Since ancient times, Xinjiang has been an important corridor of exchange and communication, through which people of multi ethnicity travelled, interacted and exchanged cultures. Xinjiang is home to multiethnic groups and abounds in cultural resources. 23 million people hail from 55 ethnic groups, 13 of which are native ones. For thousands of years people of various ethnic groups have created a remarkable civilization and left numerous heritages. Diverse religions including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Taoism are practiced side by side here. Xinjiang is making full use of its geographical and cultural advantages, is further opening up and making efforts to act as main force and vanguard in building Silk Road Economic Belt. Xinjiang is destined to become a traffic hub, a commercial logistics centre, a financial center, a cultural, scientific and educational centre, and a medical service center in region, as well as a large-scale national oil and gas production, processing and reserve base, a large-scale coal, coal power and coal chemical base, a large wind power base and a national energy resource corridor
With two railway ports already in full operation, Xinjiang is building four more to connect the region with the Eurasian continent by 2020. Xinjiang now boasts 16 airports, and the region will see an increase of four to six new airports and some others will be renovated or expanded in the following three years. Based on the three existing bonded zones in its Dzungarian Gate, Kashgar, and Khorgos, the heartland of Eurasia will further build five other bonded zones, which will lay a solid foundation for the negotiations of the long-anticipated China-Central Asia free trade area, The five ports will look to Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Central and Western Asia and Europe at large.
The media event was organized in a manner that the visit ors could appreciate the various aspects involved in making BRI a success. Xinjiang branch of China Railway Construction Heavy Industry showcased the heavy machinery involved in digging tunnels through mountains rocks and even under sea, laying down railway tracks, building roads and bridges. A visit to the Freight Train realignment center saw the departure of a freight train from Urumqi to Naples, Italy. BRI is shrinking distances and building nations closer. The rich culture of the western region was put on display through musical and dance training institutions as well as the grand theatre in Urumqi. Education is playing a major role in the uplift of the region. Middle and secondary school comprising both male and female students from backward and underdeveloped areas are brought to receive quality education in boarding schools at state expense to provide the youth to take up the challenges of higher education, an enlightened mind and a better future. Health has received adequate attention, with the establishment of state-of-the-art hospitals, combining traditional, conventional and telemedicine. Arrays of terrorist attacks have taken place in Xinjiang in the past years. In response, China has launched a severe anti-terrorism campaign. The two prong solution merits on providing development to minorities while cracking hard on terror mongers.
Rural areas have been resettled and peasants have been provided housing and shops while different ethnic races are dwelling in the same compound to achieve harmony. A visit to Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture or ‘Bazhou’ was also organized. Located in the outskirts of the Taklimakan Desert, Bazhou serves as a junction between northern and southern Xinjiang. Its capital Korla has become a sprawling metropolis with industries, oil refineries, economic and technological development zones, data hubs, new types of industries, dairy and food processing plants, water and sewage wastewater treatment plants, boast of a modernization unheard of.
Many of the projects like the industrial wastewater treatment plant can be emulated by Pakistan, which is likely to face an acute water shortage in the future. Besides industry, Bazhou has a rich cultural heritage, having been in the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road and now the BRI. It is endowed with magnificent mountains, unique landscape and mystic topography and landforms. Bosten Lake is China’s largest inland freshwater lake while the subalpine Bayanbulak Grassland, the largest of the alpine meadow steppe and Arkin Nature Reserve, the world’s largest inland wildlife sanctuary are in Bazhou. Xinjiang is destined to claim its rightful place on the BRI and has a bright future.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.