Despite recent ethnic violence, authorities in Kashgar in Xinjiang, say their ambition to transform the western border city into a booming financial hub remains on track and plan to woo talent from major mainland cities.
Kashgar and neighbouring Hotan city were hit by a series of deadly attacks last month, raising fresh concerns over long-running ethnic tensions between Han Chinese and the Muslim Uygurs.
Kashgar's mayor, Maimaiteeming Baikeli, yesterday played down the impact of two deadly attacks in the city late last month, which killed at least 14 and left 42 injured. He described the incidents as 'terrorist attacks' and said Beijing's plan to turn Kashgar into a special economic zone, like Shenzhen, remained on course.
'Kashgar has a bright future, although this won't be achieved without some tension,' he said.
With central government support, the mayor said the city had started a nationwide recruitment drive to draw talent from across the mainland, targeting cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing in coming years.
He refused to disclose more details and declined to say whether most of the migrant professionals would be Han Chinese. 'We are all Chinese,' said the mayor, who is a Uygur. Ethnicity would not be a major consideration.
The Kashgar government launched a big recruitment campaign last September. It targets top talent in various sectors and promises salaries in the range of 200,000 yuan (HK$243,000) a year.
Under Beijing's master plan, the population of Kashgar will be expanded from the present 600,000 to one million by 2015. The growth will be partly achieved by merging two nearby counties into the city, but it also requires absorbing a large number of migrants.
Analysts cautioned against the mayor's optimism, citing ethnic tensions as a major challenge.
Professor Xiong Kunxin, who studies ethnic theory and policy at the Minzu University of China in Beijing, said ethnic unrest could derail the plan.
'Everyone, including professionals, investors and tourists, will have to think twice before they go to restive southern Xinjiang,' he said.
Jiang Zhaoyong, a specialist in Xinjiang issues, also said the area's relative poverty, remoteness and ethnic tension would make it difficult to attract professionals.
'Instead of pinning hope on getting talent from other regions, the city should step up efforts to train locals, including the Uygurs,' he said.
The mayor said the local government did have plans to increase investment on education and vocational training for the Uygurs.
The city government unveiled a 100 million yuan joint venture with Citic Carbon Asset Management yesterday to tap into the city's rich natural resources. Kashgar Development Investment Holding, 60 per cent owned by the Kashgar government and the rest by Citic Carbon, will seek to develop modern agriculture production, food processing, renewable energy and infrastructure in the city.
The official death toll from ethnic violence that swept Kashgar in 2009. Most of those killed were Han Chinese, and 1,700 were hurt