MENTION a visit to Urumqi and reactions will range from 'is it in Outer Mongolia?' to 'do people travel on camels?'. At best, there will be comments only on the splendid view at renowned tourist spot Tian Chi nearby. But the city, which many people take for a primitive backwater, in fact has a pronounced economic dimension and is subject to the same policies as the open coastal cities. Having already attracted investors from Hong Kong and Taiwan, it is gearing up to lure more foreign money for its economic development. A major stop on the Silk Road, and with a long history of trade, Urumqi is now striving to adapt its trade foundations to the new era. This week it hosted a week-long trade fair, an annual event since 1992, joining the country's other major export fairs in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming and Harbin. 'Our aim is to introduce foreign capital and technology, and encourage the establishment of foreign joint ventures. It is very important, especially for Xinjiang, if it is to catch up with other cities,' said vice-mayor Wang Chuanzhou. As the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Urumqi is a traffic hub connecting the northern and southern parts of the region and the interior of China. It is also western China's bridgehead on the second Asia-Europe continental land bridge, a railway running from Lianyun port in Jiangsu to Rotterdam in Holland and passing a number of ports in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). 'It has become an important gateway in west China,' said Mr Wang. The city invited businessmen from more than 20 countries, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, to inspect 45 Urumqi enterprises and their products at the trade fair. The autonomous region government has also granted the city administrative power at provincial level over its economy and trade. This year the city was aiming at exports of more than US$40 million, of which more than a quarter was expected to come from border trade, said Mr Wang. Taking advantage of its proximity to the border, the city has long been involved in trade with neighbouring countries, including members nations of the CIS. Urumqi has jurisdiction over seven districts and one county. There are 43 ethnic groups, including the Hans which form the majority. The minority races account for 26.8 per cent of the population, with the Uygurs forming the largest group among them. The city is a budding industrial centre, with its main enterprises being petroleum processing, metallurgy, textiles, machinery, electronics, building materials, coal mining and food production. Its proximity to oilfields, including the Tarim Basin, provides it a good opportunity to develop petroleum products and provide other service, while a series of processing plants and industries for developing petroleum are being built. 'The petrochemical and oil-processing industries activate the city's industrial development by providing raw material,' said Mr Wang. Dubbed 'a city on coal fields', Urumqi itself has rich coal reserves of more than 10 billion tonnes. In its drive to lure foreign investment, the city has established a state-level economic and technological development zone spreading over 4.34 square kilometres for industrial processing, commercial and financial businesses, and tourism and service industries. There are weekly charter flights between Urumqi and Hong Kong, and international air routes also link the city to CIS cities such as Moscow and Alma-ata, the capital of Kazakhstan. Its airport is being expanded to double capacity next year in both passenger and cargo numbers.