Kashgar poised to become Central Asian travel hub

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 November, 2004, 12:00am

Kashgar, the westernmost city in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, will become a transport hub in Central Asia as China presses forward with the next phase of developing the western hinterland, government officials said.

The strategy will put emphasis on regional stability, energy and investment, which will form an important part of the 11th Five-Year Plan for the period 2006-2010 that is being drafted now, they said.

Economic prosperity and openness are seen as the best ways to combat terrorism, separatism and religious extremism in the Xinjiang region.

The development comes after the forging of economic ties with neighbouring countries including Southeast Asian nations along the Mekong River, and with Russia, Mongolia and the two Koreas in Northeast Asia, said Zou Yong , section chief of policy studies of regional development in the National Development and Reform Commission.

It will take place in the framework of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation and the Asian Development Bank, he told a forum on development strategy of Kashgar in Beijing last week.

China's trade with central Asian countries has been growing at an average rate of 40 per cent a year and Beijing is participating in energy resources development, mineral exploration and infrastructure building in the region.

To promote regional economic integration, the mainland supports the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, joining the World Trade Organisation so a rule-based trade regime can prevail. Of the six Shanghai Co-operation Organisation members, only China and Kyrgyzstan are in the WTO.

China hoped to establish a de facto free trade area in Central and South Asia in 10 to 15 years, Mr Zou said.

Kashgar will take full advantage of its location in the heart of Asia to develop land and air transport links to Islamabad and Delhi in the south, to the shores of the Caspian Sea in the west and major Chinese cities in the east, said Zong Jian , party secretary of the Kashgar district.

Specialised agricultural production and tourism were expected to lead local economic growth, he said.

Already the largest base for growing almond trees in the mainland, Kashgar plans to expand almond output dramatically this decade.

The next star cash crop is pistachio and the local government plans to plant China's largest pistachio grove, covering 67,000 hectares, in the coming years.

Pakistani Ambassador Riaz Mohammad Khan told the forum that Pakistan and China were holding discussions on what could be done to promote tourism along the Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan to Kashgar, which offers breathtaking views through some of the tallest mountain passes in the world.