Businesses on a new journey to the west
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.”