Beijing has revealed details of its plan to fast-track special economic zones in two border cities in Xinjiang under its campaign of economic development to ease ethnic tensions in the far-western region.
The move to set up the zones in Khorgos, in Yining , and in Kashgar was announced last year as Beijing revised its policies on Xinjiang in the wake of increasingly violent unrest, especially deadly clashes in the regional capital, Urumqi, in 2009, between minority Uygurs and Han that left almost 200 people dead.
In a State Council document released yesterday by Xinhua, the government pledged to introduce preferential policies for businesses in the zones, including technological and personnel support, tax cuts and other incentives. It also vowed to open up the zones to the country's central and south Asian neighbours.
Logistics, electronics, textiles, construction materials, metallurgy and renewable energy would be key industries in a 50 square kilometre development zone in Kashgar.
Khorgos, where a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, a major infrastructure project, enters China, would focus on chemicals, farm products and pharmaceuticals. The 73 square kilometre zone will also become an import point for cars.
'Infrastructure construction will be basically completed for the zones by 2015,' the plan said. 'By 2020, they would see a great leap in competitiveness in these industries and overall economic strength.'
Beijing will also push for construction of cross-border railway routes to Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and encourage Chinese and international airlines to open routes to neighbouring countries.
Analysts said Beijing's latest push for economic growth in Xinjiang, especially the region's impoverished south, would achieve results in the long run. Most of those who took part in the 2009 unrest are believed to be from that area, where Muslim Uygurs make up most of the population.
But they warned that economic development was unlikely to dramatically ease long-running ethnic tensions between Han and Uygurs, or the deep-rooted mistrust between the government and non-Han ethnic groups, citing deadly attacks that hit Kashgar and neighbouring Hotan in July.
Top leaders made 'leaps-and-bounds development' of Xinjiang a priority at a high-profile conference on the region last year. During a visit last month, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said setting up special zones was a key to development.
As well as replacing the region's hardline Communist Party boss, Wang Lequan, with the moderate and reform-minded Zhang Chunxian, Beijing also pledged to raise its per capita gross domestic product- US$3,690 last year - to the national average- US$4,628 - by 2015 and eliminate poverty by 2020.