New boom set for trading hub
But poor infrastructure poses challenges for Kashgar（喀什格尔-新疆城市）. Cui Jia reports from Xinjiang
Kashgar is set to become an economic development zone (EDZ), as part of government efforts to transform the city into a prosperous trading post for
Authorities have announced they will introduce preferential investment and taxation policies to boost investment in this ancient city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which borders
"After detailed research, the central government has decided to build an EDZ in Kashgar," Wang Yongzhi, deputy commissioner of the governing prefecture (also called Kashgar) and the man in charge of the area's economic development, told China Daily.
"None of the policies will be finalized until the end of this year at the earliest," he said.
The EDZ is also expected to ease the high unemployment rate in the prefecture as well as improve trade links.
However, due to rumors circulated throughout the city since May, when the central government hosted its first working conference on Xinjiang in 60 years, most residents believe Kashgar is about to become the next Shenzhen - China's first and arguably most successful special economic zone (SEZ).
"We're going to be the next Shenzhen," said 30-year-old taxi driver Abula Mijit excitedly as he drove through the streets of Kashgar.
"Everyone is talking about it."
From traders to tailors, the prospect of Kashgar becoming the Shenzhen of West China has been a hot topic in recent months.
Shenzhen, located in
Today, it is a modern metropolis with a vibrant economy and a population of about 8.9 million people.
The western parts of
"As the place that links
However, Hupur now will have to settle for the time being with an economic development zone, which is smaller in scale than an SEZ and has less preferential policies than an SEZ.
Kashgar is already a major exchange for retailers from
About 65 percent of products sent over the border from Kashgar last year were garments, while daily essentials made up 30 percent. So the first step, said Wang, is for the EDZ to target enterprises specializing in those sectors.
But even setting up an economic development zone will be a challenge for the authorities due to the city's poor infrastructure.
The EDZ will be based on the existing Kashgar Central and Southern Asia Industrial Park, which is close to the airport and downtown areas. Although only 5 square kilometers, the park will initially be expanded to 8.5 square kilometers and is expected to reach 160 square kilometers.
At the moment, the park has a smattering of just 20 or so small manufacturers and the streets are deathly quiet during the afternoon. Empty warehouses can be found around almost every corner.
"The electricity and water supplies are really unstable here," said Cao Gang, a 23-year-old worker who was wandering around the park because the power to his factory had gone off. "No wonder lots of businesses moved out of here and no one wants to come."
Roads in the region are also a problem, and trade with
"No vehicles could get through," said Fei Lixin, customs commissioner at
"The parking lot would be packed at this time of the year if it was not for the avalanche lake," said Fei.
Muhamaad Usman, owner of the Karachi-based Usman International, said he is frustrated because he was unable to ship the hard coke he had bought back home through
"I really enjoy doing business in Kashgar. It is very important for
Almost all of the 60,000 tons of export goods Khunjerab dealt with last year were daily essentials and electronic products, shipped all the way from Yiwu in East China's
"The market in
Security is another major challenge facing the future of Kashgar due to its sensitive location - and the fragile state of some of its neighbors.
As well as the ongoing war against the Taliban in
"Trade between Kashgar and neighboring countries depends on their economic development and social stability," Zou Meidiao, director of the managing committee at Turgart Port, which lies on the border, 165 km north of Kashgar.
"The (ethnic) unrest has brought trade between the two countries to a standstill," said Zou. "Although the market in
Also, Kashgar - where the population is 94 percent Uygur, the majority of whom are Muslim - has for a long time been the frontline in
"The city needs to be opened up more to neighboring countries," said a high-ranking official with the prefecture's Party committee who did not want to be identified, "but doing so requires much stronger border controls."
"Our officers have to be extra careful because people keep trying to smuggle in guns and drugs from
Yuan Youjun, who runs one of the largest logistics companies in Kashgar, suggested authorities should relax some regulations to help businesses. The entrepreneur said that city officials are sometimes very sensitive about security issues.
"To get a passport for my drivers (about 90 percent are ethnic Uygur), we have to get a dozen stamps from different authorities," he explained, whose firm has been badly affected by both the avalanche lake in
The Party committee official revealed that the prefecture is considering allowing
He also suggested trucks from overseas should be allowed to load and unload in the EDZ, rather than at one of the nearby ports to reduce their transport costs.
The fact is that only about 50,000 people and 4,000 trucks passed through Turgart last year - considerably less than the number that goes through Shenzhen every day.
He could have a point. Companies that move to Kashgar's EDZ will bring jobs, helping to ease the unemployment rate in neighboring counties like Shufu and Shule. Most of the rioters from Kashgar prefecture involved in last year's July 5 bloody riot in Urumqi were unemployed 16- to 35-year-olds.
However, the EDZ is unlikely to halt the city's soaring property prices, another potential source of frustration for residents.
"The average price of this property increased 600 yuan ($88) per square meter to 3,400 yuan after the rumors of Kashgar becoming an SEZ and it is still going up," said Sun Wen, a 28-year-old sales girl at a residential development in the city center.
She was also disappointed when she was told the city would not become an SEZ.
"Well, that's bad. We were so looking forward to that," she said, before quickly adding: "Please don't tell my customers."