Busi­nesses on a new jour­ney to the west

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Xu Fenglin fell in love with Kash­gar the mo­ment he ar­rived in 2012. “I im­me­di­ately be­gan per­suad­ing my fam­ily to move here with me, and we are now of­fi­cially res­i­dents,” he said.

The 36-year-old used to work in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong province, a pi­lot city for China’s re­form and openingup pol­icy that was trans­formed from a fish­ing vil­lage to one ofChina’s rich­est cities in a mere 30 years. Xu is now deputy di­rec­tor of the Kash­gar Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone’s ad­min­is­tra­tive com­mis­sion.

Like Xu, 34-year-old Ye Li­wei also quit a well-paid job in Shen­zhen, but he came to Kash­gar to work in a real es­tate com­pany.

They are just two of the tal­ents who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally gave up ev­ery­thing to move to China’s west­ern­most cor­ner, buoyed by a belief that Kash­gar will be­come the next Shen­zhen.

Lo­cated in the south­west of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Kash­gar is hop­ing to repli­cate Shen­zhen’s suc­cess.

Shen­zhen­wascho­sen­for its prox­im­ity to Hong Kong, and Kash­gar con­nects China with five Eurasian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ta­jik­istan, Afghanistan, Kyr­gyzs­tan and Uzbek­istan, via land ports. The city’s strate­gic lo­ca­tion has made it a cru­cial hub for re­gional trade and cul­tural ex­changes for more than 2,000 years.

If the trans­porta­tion is good, Kash­gar will be­come a gate­way to the west.”

The Kash­gar SEZ was es­tab­lished in 2010 with the aim of build­ing the city as a gate­way tothe we­s­tan­danew en­gine to drive Xin­jiang’s de­vel­op­ment. The­zonecov­ers an area of 50 square kilo­me­ters and is di­vided into three dis­tinct ar­eas for man­u­fac­tur­ing, lo­gis­tics and fi­nance.

In 2013, the zone gained fur­ther im­pe­tus when Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping an­nounced an am­bi­tious plan to build the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt, which will con­nect Asian and Euro­pean mar­kets and cover more than 3 bil­lion peo­ple. Af­ter five years un­der con­struc­tion, the zone is fi­nally tak­ing shape.

One of the most im­pres­sive build­ings un­der con­struc­tion is the Kash­gar De­vel­op­ment Tow­ers, which, at 280 me­ters tall, will be the high­est in­Xin­jiang. The twin tow­ers will host the Kash­gar Hil­ton Ho­tel and a tax-free shop­ping mall fea­tur­ing brands such as Prada, Valentino and Louis Vuit­ton.

Many com­pa­nies China’s heart­land from have moved their oper­a­tions to the SEZ, at­tracted by the pref­er­en­tial poli­cies of­fered by lo­cal author­i­ties.

Sy­cco Elec­tron­ics Co, head­quar­tered in Guang­dong province, es­tab­lished a fac­tory in the zone last year. Mainly man­u­fac­tur­ing mo­bile phone charg­ers and ca­bles, and em­ploy­ing 500 work­ers, the plant’s prod­ucts are ex­ported to nearby In­dia and Pak­istan.

De­spite its early suc­cess, Kash­gar is faced with chal­lenges that never trou­bled Shen­zhen.

Trans­porta­tion is the big­gest chal­lenge. Although the city boasts an in­ter­na­tional air­port, most out­bound flights have to stop over in Urumqi, the re­gional cap­i­tal, and there no di­rect rail link be­tween Kash­gar and ma­jor cities out­side the au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

“If the trans­porta­tion is good, Kash­gar will be­come a gate­way to the west. If not, it will re­main locked deep in the desert,” said Chen Bin, di­rec­tor of the zone’s Of­fice of Party andGovern­ment Af­fairs.

Last year, the city be­gan sub­si­diz­ing ma­jor do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional flights — for ex­am­ple, air­lines now re­ceive a sub­sidy of $20,000 for a round trip be­tween Kash­gar and Is­lam­abad.

“The pas­sen­ger flow has been in­creas­ing grad­u­ally, but it’s still far from enough,” Chen said.

Another press­ing prob­lem is a lack of tal­ent. “The SEZ is starved of tal­ent, es­pe­cially in fi­nance, en­gi­neer­ing and re­search,” XuFenglin said. He un­der­stood that­many peo­ple out­side Xin­jiang are con­cerned about pos­si­ble un­rest and ter­ror­ist at­tacks, but said the re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent.

“When I first de­cided to come to Kash­gar, al­most all my rel­a­tives and friends were again­stmy de­ci­sion. But now I live a good life here. Peo­ple will change their minds if they can ex­pe­ri­ence the city for them­selves.”

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