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Development and progress in Xinjiang
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-22 08:27



i. Swift economic development

ii. Remarkable improvement in people's lives

iii. Steady development of social programs

iv. Preservation of ethnic cultures

v. Upholding ethnic equality and unity

vi. Protecting citizens' rights of freedom of religious belief

vii. Safeguarding national unity and social stability



Extending through the northwest of the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, which accounts for about one sixth of the country's land territory.

Historically, Xinjiang was the passage for land transport and civilizational contact between Asia and Europe. The famous Silk Road linking the ancient civilizations of the East and the West went through this vast land. Its geographical location has resulted in Xinjiang's distinctive feature: coexistence and integration of diverse peoples and their cultures. Since the first century BC, the region has been an important part of China, and played a significant role in the construction and development of a unitary multiethnic country.

Prior to the founding ceremony of the PRC on October 1, 1949, Xinjiang witnessed its peaceful liberation. The diverse peoples of Xinjiang, who had undergone great sufferings together with the people in other parts of the country, became the masters of the state, and Xinjiang entered a new era of development.

Over the past 60 years, under the leadership and care of the Communist Party of China and the central government, and with the support and assistance of all peoples in other parts of the country, the Xinjiang people of various ethnic groups through arduous efforts have made great advances in building a comfortable life and a beautiful home. The region has made a historic leap out of underdevelopment, with tremendous changes taking place in the areas north and south of the Tianshan Mountains.

The development and progress of the autonomous region should be attributed to the concerted efforts by all peoples of Xinjiang under the banner of solidarity of all ethnic groups, as well as to the success of China's policies on ethnic minorities.

I. Swift economic development

Before the founding of New China in 1949, Xinjiang had a natural economy mainly comprised of farming and animal husbandry. Local development was stagnant, with low productivity levels and underdeveloped production modes. There was not an inch of railway, no large-scale farms or large fertile fields. Privately owned small workshops were what signified industry here. The people led a life of poverty and hardship.

Since 1949, particularly after China's reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, Xinjiang has entered an era of rapid economic and social progress and enhanced comprehensive strength, with the local residents enjoying the most tangible benefits. Proceeding from the state development strategy and the fundamental interests of the people of various ethnic groups, the Chinese government has paid great attention to the development and construction of Xinjiang. It has made it a national basic policy to help the frontier areas develop their economy for the common good and wealth, and worked out timely a series of strategic decisions to promote Xinjiang's development. Xinjiang has been given priority in the national strategy launched in 2000 to develop the western regions.

Over the years, Xinjiang has made full use of its own advantages, and focused on economic restructuring and changing the modes of economic growth, infrastructure construction and environmental protection, along with improvement of people's livelihood and basic public services, so as to keep the development of Xinjiang in pace with the national development, and to ensure beneficial interaction between the development of southern Xinjiang and that of northern Xinjiang.

Comprehensive strength remarkably enhanced. Calculated at constant prices, the local GDP in 2008 stood at 420.3 billion yuan, which is 86.4 times higher than that of 1952 (three years before the establishment of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region), up 8.3% on average annually; 19.6 times over that of 1978 (the first year of reform and opening-up), up 10.4% on average annually; and 2.2 times above that of 2000 (launching of the western development campaign), up 10.6% on average annually. Local revenues reached 36.106 billion yuan in 2008, which is 4.56 times that of 2000, 50.57 times that of 1978, and 208.71 times that of 1955.

Development and progress in Xinjiang

Economic structure gradually optimized. In recent years, Xinjiang has witnessed rapid growth of its industry, agriculture, and service sector. As industrialization quickens, industry has replaced agriculture to become the pillar economic sector. Tertiary industry, or services, is also playing a prominent role in economic advancement. Wholesale and retail businesses and catering industry have expanded swiftly, while post and telecommunications networks have been widely set up, and new sectors, such as real estate and finance, are booming. In 2008, primary, secondary and tertiary industries accounted for, respectively, 16.4%, 49.7% and 33.9% of the local GDP.

Infrastructure construction reinforced. Given its "irrigation farming in oases," Xinjiang has built a number of large modern water conservancy projects, such as the Kizil Reservoir in Aksu and the Ulug Ata Reservoir in Hotan, in addition to canals, ditches and seepage control projects, which have greatly increased the amount of water diverted, reservoir storage capacity and effectively irrigated areas. The completion of the Tarim River improvement project in 2008, with an investment of more than 10 billion yuan, put an end to the river's 30-year history of running dry for some 300 km in its lower reaches. Efforts in building shelterbelts of north, northeast and northwest China, greening the plain areas, returning farmlands to forests and returning pastures to grasslands have also improved farming conditions. Drip and spray irrigation is now available to nearly 800,000 ha of farmlands, thus saving 5 billion cu m of water annually.

By the end of 2008, Xinjiang had completed eight national highways, 66 inter-province highways, and more than 600 county-level roads, with the combined mileage reaching 147,000 km. A highway network has taken shape centering on Urumqi (capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region), with roads surrounding the two basins (Junggar and Tarim) and crossing the two large deserts (Gurbantunggut and Taklimakan) and the Tianshan Mountains, to link southern and northern Xinjiang. With the completion of railways going through southern and northern Xinjiang and the Lanzhou-Xinjiang double-track rails, the total length of railroads in Xinjiang surpassed 3,000 km by 2008. Civil aviation has expanded swiftly, and a network with 114 domestic and international flight routes has formed, radiating from Urumqi and connecting some 70 Chinese and foreign cities and 12 prefectures in Xinjiang, with flight routes totaling over 160,000 km. Xinjiang now boasts the largest number of airports and the longest flight routes among all provinces and autonomous regions in China.

The post and telecommunications industry has seen rapid growth. A complete modern communications system has been put in place, composed of program-controlled exchanges, fiber-optical communication, digital microwave, as well as satellite and mobile communications; and the entire region has been covered by optical cable, digital microwave and satellite communications.

Overall agricultural production capacity notably enhanced. Xinjiang boasts abundant agricultural resources. In recent years, the industrialized production of grain, cotton, special fruit and quality livestock farming as well as agriculture facility building have quickened, and industrialized belts of advantageous and special farming products are taking shape. The fundamental status and overall production capacity of agriculture have both been enhanced, and the effective supply of agricultural products is increasing multifold.

In 2008, agricultural added value reached 69.1 billion yuan, 1.4 times more than that of 2000; and the total output of grain was 10.2285 million tons, leaving a slight surplus after meeting local demand. As one of China's major bases of commercial cotton, Xinjiang produced 3.0155 million tons of cotton in 2008, ranking first in China in terms of total output, per-unit output and per-capita output.

Modern animal husbandry has accelerated its growth, and it now accounts for 27% of local agricultural output value. In 2008, meat output stood at 1.7549 million tons, up 95% from 2000. Fruit production is also increasing quickly. In 2008, the total area of fruit trees exceeded one million ha, and fruit output totaled over 4 million tons, worth 6 billion yuan in output value.

By 2008, Xinjiang had 1,059 enterprises engaged in agricultural produce processing. It is the largest tomato processing and export base in China. Its daily dairy-processing capacity has been boosted from less than 1,000 tons to nearly 3,000 tons in a couple of years, the fastest growth in all provinces and autonomous regions. It is also the largest production base of beet sugar in China, with an annual output of 600,000 tonnes. The wine-making industry is advancing dynamically. Agricultural processing has made production-on-order available to more than half of the planting areas, benefiting 65% of rural households.

Modern industry system gradually formed. Xinjiang's industry has grown out of nothing, and developed from small to big. In recent years, through transforming advantageous resources, and supporting large enterprises and groups while nurturing small and medium-sized ones, Xinjiang has quickened its industrialization pace. Its main industrial products have seen multiple increases in output; and a complete modern industrial system has taken shape, comprising petroleum, coal, iron and steel, chemical industries, power, building materials, and textiles. Industrial zones have emerged, including the economic belt on the northern slope of the Tianshan Mountains, the Urumqi-Changji Hui autonomous prefecture integrated economic zone and the Korla-Kuqa petrochemical belt, while 32 national and regional industrial parks have been built.

Industry has become an important factor propelling the local economy. In 2008, the industrial sector reported a 52.3% contribution to local economic growth, and industrial added value totaled 179.07 billion yuan, 274 times more than that of 1952, 16.6 times above 1978, and 3.98 times more than figures in 2000. The use of information technology in major industries and sectors has been strengthened, while the total amount of major pollutants discharged has been basically controlled, and energy-saving and emission-reduction efforts have yielded good results.

Mineral resources further deve-loped. Xinjiang is one of Chinese regions rich in oil, gas and coal resources. Encouraged by the state policy of large-scale exploration and development through big investments, Xinjiang has endeavored to turn its resource advantages into economic advantages, and to boost the local economy through resources development so as to benefit all people in Xinjiang.

In 2008, Xinjiang ranked second in China by generating 27.22 million tons of crude oil; and first, by producing 24 billion cu m of natural gas. Driven by local oil-and-gas development and China's cooperation with West Asian countries in relevant fields, the construction of pipelines in Xinjiang is advancing rapidly. By 2008, Xinjiang had a network of pipelines whose total length exceeded 4,000 km, covering southern, northern and eastern Xinjiang.

In recent years, thermal power and coal-chemical industries have boomed in Xinjiang. The rapid growth of energy and chemical industries has not only met local demands for energy and petrochemical products, but also spurred services and other relevant sectors. This is important for the formation and upgrading of regional economic structure, as well as for job creation and the urbanization rate.

Opening wider to the world. Xinjiang is one of China's major gateways opening to the west. It is also an important passageway on the new Eurasian continental bridge. Bordered by Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Xinjiang has the longest land borders among all frontier provinces and autonomous regions in China. Since China's reform and opening-up in 1978, Xinjiang has experienced a change from being closed or semi-closed to all-round opening up.

Now, Xinjiang has 17 Grade-I customs ports approved by the state and 12 Grade-II ones approved by the autonomous region itself, linking it immediately to over a dozen surrounding and nearby countries. By the end of 2008, Xinjiang was conducting economic and trade cooperation, as well as scientific and technological and cultural exchanges, with 167 countries and regions.

In 2008, Xinjiang's volume of foreign trade reached $22.217 billion, ranking 12th in China (and second among central and western municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions); it made $164 million in non-finance direct investment abroad, ranking 13th in China; and its turnover from overseas contracted projects reached $795 million, ranking 14th. The region dispatched 8,548 people to work overseas, ranking 13th in China.

Tourism has witnessed buoyant growth. In recent years, Xinjiang's tourism has become a new economic growth point. By 2008, the region has opened nearly 500 scenic zones or spots. Besides the main tourist route along the Silk Road, there are also the Kanas Lake eco-tourism zone, the Heavenly Lake, Sayram and Bosten lakes, ancient cultural ruins in Turpan and Kuqa, the folk customs zone in Kashi (Kashgar), and the Ili grasslands. In 2008, Xinjiang hosted 22.3132 million foreign and domestic visitors, and reported nearly 20 billion yuan in tourism revenues.

Regional economic growth coordinated. The state and the autonomous region have supported areas with advantageous conditions to take the development lead, while adopting preferential policies and measures to boost the development of southern Xinjiang (with the focus on Kashi, Hotan and Kizilsu Kirgiz autonomous prefecture) as well as pastureland and frontier areas, for more balanced development between southern and northern Xinjiang, and between urban and rural areas.

The economic belt on the northern slope of the Tianshan Mountains will take the initiative in taking on the industries from China's eastern coast, so as to build a new industrial base. Urumqi-Changji integration will be accelerated, while construction of national export processing zones, development zones and industrial parks will be sped up, and a modern service sector will be further developed. Based on oil and gas resources, and thermal power and coal-chemical industries, the construction of the Turpan-Hami petrochemical belt on the southern slope of the Tianshan Mountains will be expedited to seek a congregating effect of large projects to form groups of ancillary industries.

Great efforts will be made to promote the economic and social development of the three prefectures (i.e., Kashi, Hotan and Kizilsu Kirgiz autonomous prefecture) in southern Xinjiang, with priorities on a number of projects that are central to long-term development and improvement of people's livelihood, such as quakeproof housing, transformation of the old town of Kashi, rural infrastructure construction, underground water tapping, reclamation of saline-alkali lands, provision of safe drinking water, and spread of biogas in the countryside. Preferential policies shall be adopted to improve production and living conditions in pastureland and frontier areas, and to accelerate their development.

The great economic achievements are the results of concerted efforts by all peoples of Xinjiang, and of support from the central government and the entire nation. Over the years, the central government has, in formulating plans on national economic and social development, listed Xinjiang's projects in infrastructure, agricultural development and a modern industrial system construction as key state projects enjoying preferential policies and funding support.

From 1950 to 2008, the central government invested 386.23 billion yuan in Xinjiang, accounting for 25.7% of the total investment in the region. From 1955 (when the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was established) to 2008, Xinjiang received a total of 375.202 billion yuan in subsidies from the central budget. Along with the implementation of the western region development campaign in 2000, the amount of subsidies has grown by 24.4% on average annually, reaching 68.56 billion yuan in 2008. The central government has increased capital input and support to the region by using loans from international financial organizations and foreign governments.

In recent years, to optimize Xinjiang's industrial structure, the central government has moved a number of enterprises and factories from the economically more developed southeast coast to Xinjiang, and transferred engineers and technicians from other areas to the region's newly built pillar enterprises. A large number of workers from Xinjiang's ethnic minorities have been selected to work in other areas, thus fostering a contingent of skilled workers for the region within a short period.

Moreover, the various municipalities and provinces have been paired up with different parts of Xinjiang to provide the latter with large sums of capital, technology and talents, which have played an important role in the region's development. On the one hand, the more-developed areas have dispatched technicians, teachers, doctors, management personnel and other professionals to work in Xinjiang's prefectures and counties, to disseminate advanced technology and concepts. On the other hand, Xinjiang has dispatched teams of its own officials, technicians and workers from Party and government organs, as well as economic management departments, to work and study in relevant provinces and municipalities.

In recent years, at the request of the central government, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Shandong, Liaoning, Jiangxi and Henan as well as 15 state-owned large enterprises have been paired up with 33 counties (or cities) in southern Xinjiang to provide them with economic, scientific and technological, and cultural assistance.

II. Remarkable improvement in people's lives

Having eliminated poverty and solved basic subsistence problems, the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have now set their eyes on more prosperous lives, along with marked improvement in their standard of living.

Development and progress in Xinjiang

In 2008, the per-capita net income of farmers in Xinjiang was 3,503 yuan, which is 28 times more than that of 1978, and 1.2 times more than that of 2000 when the western development campaign was launched; the per-capita disposable income of urban residents reached 11,432 yuan, which is 35 times more than that of 1978, and double that of 2001. The per-capita deposited savings of urban and rural residents averaged 14 yuan in 1955, 52 yuan in 1978, 4,913 yuan in 2000, and 11,972 yuan in 2008. Per-capita consumption was 122 yuan in 1952, 181 yuan in 1978, 2,662 yuan in 2000, and 4,890 yuan in 2007.

The residents' income increases have become more diversified. In the countryside, besides conventional crops such as grain and cotton, fruit trees have become a new source of earnings for farmers and herdsmen, bringing in 340 yuan per capita in 2008. In places that had developed fruit growing earlier, earnings from selling fruit accounted for more than 40% of the total income of farmers and herdsmen. Another way to increase earnings is seeking jobs elsewhere, particularly in eastern China. In 2008, more than 1.5 million farmers and herdsmen found jobs outside Xinjiang, bringing back an additional 150 yuan per person for all rural residents. The development of tourism has promoted the production and sales of tourist products with distinctive features of minority ethnic groups, and the growth of local handicrafts, directly or indirectly creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and thus increasing household incomes.

Development and progress in Xinjiang

The consumption levels of rural and urban residents have steadily risen. Average per-capita amount of grain rose from 195.62 kg in 1949 to 300.09 kg in 1978, and further to 426.60 kg in 2008; average per-capita amount of cotton rose from 1.18 kg in 1949 to 4.46 kg in 1978, reaching 141.52 kg in 2008; and average per-capita amount of meat was 11.68 kg in 1949, 7.83 kg in 1978, and increased to 53.85 kg in 2008.

The consumption structure has changed. The Engel's Coefficient (the proportion of food consumption) for rural residents was 60.8% in 1978, 50.0% in 2001, and 42.5% in 2008; while for urban residents it was 57.3% in 1980, 36.4% in 2001, and 37.3% in 2008.

Family consumption patterns are shifting from everyday items to services, culture, education, travel, healthcare, credit, information, private cars, and luxury housing. The consumption structure is changing from agricultural products like foodstuffs to electronic products for comfort and leisure. Food consumption is shifting from staple foods to non-cereal foods stressing nutritional balance. Clothing consumption is following the trends of readymade garments, latest fashions, brand-names and unique styles. The consumption on home appliances has experienced a shift from bicycles, sewing machines, watches and radios, to color TV sets, refrigerators, washing machines and cameras, as well as personal computers (PCs), video cameras, pianos and gym facilities. Now, cars are also becoming more affordable for an increasing number of families.

Development and progress in Xinjiang

The number of home appliances bought by urban and rural families has been steadily rising. In the countryside, in 1990 every 100 households owned 12.58 washing machines, which increased to 20.87 in 2000, and to 38 in 2008; in 1990 every 100 households owned 0.40 refrigerators, which increased to 9.93 in 2000, and to 30.32 in 2008; in 1990 every 100 households owned 1.37 motorcycles, which increased to 18.33 in 2000, and to 50.77 in 2008; and the number of cell phones per 100 households increased from 0.33 in 2000 to 54 in 2008.

In the cities, every 100 households owned 2.78 air-conditioners in 2000, and 11.18 in 2008; 4.81 cell phones in 2000, and 144.40 in 2008; 5.68 PCs in 2000, and 41.32 in 2008; and 0.82 private cars in 2000, and 4.62 in 2008.

People's living conditions have seen continuous improvement. A wide range of transportation vehicles available has made travel much easier and faster. In the early days of reform and opening-up in the 1980s, it took nearly one week to travel from Urumqi to Beijing by train, while now it takes only three hours by air. The length of paved road per 10,000 urban residents was 1.6 km in 1978, 4.5 km in 2000, and up to 15.7 km in 2008. The number of buses per 10,000 urban residents was 3.1 in 1978, which increased to 13.2 in 2008.

Development and progress in Xinjiang

Housing conditions have also greatly improved. Per-capita floor space in the countryside was 10.2 sq m in 1983, 17.25 sq m in 2000, and 22.79 sq m in 2008; while per-capita floor space in cities was 11.9 sq m in 1983, 20.06 sq m in 2000, increasing to 27.3 sq m in 2008.

Presently, 97.86% of the population in cities have access to tap water and the rate is 87.18% in county seats. While 89.33% of people in cities have access to cooking gas, the rate is 66.67% in county seats. In cities and towns the rate of centralized heating is 51.2%, the rate of sewage treatment 68%, and the rate of treatment of domestic waste is 16%. The urban green-coverage is 30.49%, the vegetation-land ratio is 26.19%, and per-capita public green area is 6.94 sq m.

In recent years, reasonably priced clean gas has become available to more than 300,000 households in 23 counties and cities in southern Xinjiang, including Korla, Hotan, Kashi, Artux, Aksu, Moyu, Lop and Shule. The number of household gas users in southern Xinjiang keeps growing by 1,000 every month. The felling and burning of poplar trees for household fuel has become a thing of the past.

III. Steady development of social programs

Development and progress in Xinjiang

Before the founding of the PRC in 1949, Xinjiang had but one college, nine secondary schools and 1,355 primary schools. Only 19.8% of school-age children attended primary school, and the overall illiteracy rate was a shocking 90%. Unprecedented changes have taken place in education in Xinjiang after 1949. At present, Xinjiang has basically made the nine-year compulsory education universal and eliminated illiteracy in the young and middle-aged population. Adult and vocational education started from scratch, and has been developing steadily. Since 2006, with the introduction of a new mechanism that guarantees rural education funding, Xinjiang's primary and secondary school students have enjoyed free compulsory education. In 2008, the government granted living subsidies to all underprivileged students who live at school and exempted urban students from tuition fees during their compulsory education period. Since 2007, the state has initiated an annual budget of 129 million yuan for the education of 51,000 very poor university students and 95,000 secondary and higher vocational school students, 70% of whom come from ethnic minorities.

In 2008, the Xinjiang autonomous region government invested a total of 18.77 billion yuan in the region's education system, representing a year-on-year increase of 32.3%. Statistics from that year show that Xinjiang had 4,159 primary schools with 2,012,000 students, and a 99.6% enrollment rate for school-age children. There were 1,973 secondary schools with 1,722,000 students, and 32 institutions of higher learning with 241,000 undergraduate and 10,300 graduate students in total.

The state gives priority to education for ethnic minorities and has enacted special policies to support its development. To ensure their rights to higher education, the state adopted favorable enrollment policies for ethnic-minority students in the 1950s, now including further policies for proportional enrollment, separate examinations and admission scores. The state has set up primary and secondary boarding schools in farming and pastoral areas, providing free accommodation and food, as well as books and stationery. The state is committed to the cultivation of high-caliber professionals from minority backgrounds, sending promising students for overseas studies and through programs such as Specialized Training for Xinjiang Minority Sci-Tech Personnel and the High-Level Minority Talents Program. To develop education for ethnic minorities, it encourages the use of minority languages in classroom teaching. For ethnic groups with their own written languages in Xinjiang, school education is conducted in their own languages. Over the years, special state funds have been earmarked for the compilation and printing of textbooks in Uyghur, Kazak, Mongolian, Xibe and Kirgiz languages, satisfying the needs of minority students for textbooks of major courses. In Xinjiang, test papers for the annual national college entrance examinations are printed in Uyghur, Han, Kazak and Mongolian languages.

With social and economic development and increasing exchanges between different people of various ethnic groups, more and more minority people also wish to learn the Han Chinese language. In view that around 70% of the 10 million ethnic minorities in Xinjiang hardly understood written Han Chinese, therefore posing challenges for the minority people themselves and the region's development, the autonomous region government decided in 2004 to promote bilingual education among minority students, requiring high school graduates to master both their mother tongue and the Han Chinese language. In 2008, as proposed by the Uyghur community, bilingual training programs for teachers and preschool children were carried out. Today, bilingual education efforts have proved to be a significant measure for better understanding and communication between different ethnic groups, and the development of relations among the various ethnic groups featuring equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony, and promoting common prosperity for all peoples.

To provide better basic education for minority students in frontier areas, from 2000 the state opened special classes for Xinjiang students in 13 high schools in 12 more-developed provinces and municipalities, including Beijing and Shanghai. By 2008, 28 cities in 12 provinces and municipalities had altogether 50 such classes for a total of 5,000 students, quintupling the initial enrollment. These special classes have to date enrolled 24,000 students over nine years, with 90% of the graduates advancing to higher education in inland universities, 85% at key schools. Since 2003, the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region government has followed suit by starting junior-high classes in eight cities, including Urumqi and Shihezi, recruiting 5,000 students each year, mainly primary school graduates from farming and pastoral areas, especially poverty-stricken or border areas. More than 80% are children from minority farming and herding families.

Xinjiang's scientific pursuits did not really start up until after the PRC was founded in 1949. Six decades of efforts have basically established a well-structured scientific research and development system and professional teams with high achievements to support regional scientific development. By the end of 2007, a total of 1,972,000 professionals were working in Xinjiang, and by the end of 2008 these people had produced over 6,000 major scientific achievements, winning nearly 200 national awards and registering 200,000 patents. Scientific and high-tech enterprises continue to explore an innovative development path, drawing global attention with well-known names such as Gold Wind Technology, TBEA and other companies.

(China Daily 09/22/2009 page8)