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City looking for central role
By Guo Yali and Xie Ye (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-16 10:23

Kashgar, a pivotal city along the Silk Road in ancient times, wants to reinstate its importance by becoming an economic hub for countries in neighbouring central and southern Asia.

And the local government of Kashgar, which is located in the southwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is lobbying the central government for support to achieve the goal.

Kashgar's government hopes the idea can allow it to cash in on its geographic location, as it borders eight countries that include India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

"Kashgar plans to become a regional free trade zone in a decade or two," Zhong Jian, the deputy Party secretary of Kashgar, said yesterday during a seminar that was used to further develop the strategy.

According to the economic revival blueprint, the local government will promote tourism and trade with its neighbours, solicit investment from China's developed coastal areas, and nurture businesses such as cotton, grain and oil.

Meanwhile, there are also plans for Kashgar to become the onshore route for China's oil imports from the Middle East, which are now primarily transported via the vulnerable Malacca Straits.

"Kashgar is an historical place for economic and cultural exchanges," said Afghan Ambassador Qiamuddin Rai Barlas.

"At the present time, it can also play an important role," he said. "From a strategic point of view, it can become a centre for the regional economy."

But there is much work to do. Kashgar's economy is largely insignificant, even in Xinjiang.

The lack of infrastructure and transport links that scare away investment and its many trade barriers are among the obstacles, according to local officials.

They plan to establish direct air routes with Asian and European countries to allow for trade, create a free trade and export processing zones, and accelerate immigration.

They are also courting enterprises from eastern coastal areas in a bid to get them to relocate their factories to Kashgar. Industries related to power, textiles, construction materials and minerals are preferred.

To realize these goals, the officials say they need help from the central government.

They are looking for backing to build infrastructure such as railways and air ports, in addition to asking for tax cuts and rebates, and favorable bank loans to support development.

"The seminar was held in Beijing because the development of Kashgar requires political support," said Mao Yushi, a renowned economist who was in attendance.

Government officials from the Foreign Ministry, National Development Planning Commission, State banks, tourism bureaux, economists and foreign ambassadors attended the event, which began yesterday and is due to finish today.

Diplomats said the creation of a strong location went beyond the realm of economics.

"People living in the central-south Asian region is still suffering from terrorism, extremism and separatism. If people here can live a better life, there will be no place for terrorism," said Barlas.

The Ambassador of the Republic of Tajikistan, Bahodur Abdouliaev, said Kashgar could easily become a central player in the region.

"Now is a good time to development this strategy," he said.

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