Silk Road centre a money spinner
Nailene Chou Wiest in Beijing
Xinjiang on the fast track to becoming regional trade hub
Xinjiang has rapidly positioned itself as a regional transshipment hub, linking markets in land-locked Central Asian countries with China's coastal provinces, a senior official has said.
Zhang Zhou , vice-chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, said total foreign trade through the area, which is part of the Silk Road, rose from US$1 billion in 1998 to US$5 billion last year.
He attributed the impressive growth to the region's position as the gateway to Central Asia. Xinjiang's strategic location also enabled countries like Japan and South Korea to ship containers to Lianyungang in Jiangsu province and transport them by train to the Sino-Kazakh border.
In recent years Kazakh traders have formed purchasing consortiums to be able to place large orders on new products, such as home appliances and apparel, in manufacturing centres in eastern Chinese provinces. With strong Chinese demand for natural resources and energy, two-way trade has been brisk.
The two nations are also planning a free-trade zone on the Huoerguosi border crossing to enhance economic and trade co-operation. 'The potential is great,' Mr Zhang said.
He said the increase in trade at the border crossing had pushed the rail capacity to the limit, prompting the construction of a spur line and diversion of some cargo traffic by highway.
However, Mr Zhang said he expected the infrastructure bottleneck to ease when the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline became operational next year, as 2.6 million tonnes of crude a year were currently shipped by railroad tankers.
Another thriving transshipment centre is Kash in southern Xinjiang, which conducts trade with Pakistan, India and Kyrgyzstan.
Xinjiang, which borders eight countries, has 17 customs points. It has been a main beneficiary of the Go West campaign and last year its GDP rose 11 per cent, outpacing the 9.5 per cent national average.
Officials from Xinjiang were in Beijing to promote the 14th Urumuqi Trade Fair, which will be held from September 1-5.