Will Xinjiang Become the New Miracle of Eurasia?

Part 1 of series of Reports on a tour of the Uyghur Autonomous Region of China

By: Hussein Askary*

Vice-President of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden


“The distance between falsehood and truth is just four fingers. [Placing four fingers between his ear and eye] That is between saying ‘I heard’ and saying ‘I saw’”. Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (Nahjul Balagha, Path of Eloquence , Speech 141)

Before travelling to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, I had many pre-established perceptions about the place, both positive and negative. However, seeing the region with my own eyes, getting firsthand experience and information, and engaging in dialogue with people there, changed all these previous perceptions. From April 8 to 16, I accompanied a group of 30 reporters and experts from different Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries in an intensive tour of several cities and counties of Xinjiang. A few others were not from BRI countries, such as Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and myself from Sweden. The tour explored different economic, cultural, social, and ecological aspects of life in Xinjiang. It was a big surprise for all who were there for the first time, and big motivation to visit the region again and explore more and deeper into this vast, mysterious, and colourful part of China. This series of articles will cover these aspects. This first part is a general overview with special focus on the economic features of Xinjiang and its role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Although I have closely observed the economic development of China and Xinjiang for several years, travelling to the region and seeing for myself the level of development and modernisation that has taken place, proved to me that all my previous perceptions about Xinjiang were not correct. The level of modernisation, the prosperity of the people and their social and cultural development has been a positive shock for me.

The answer to the question posed in the title of this report, whether Xinjiang will be the next economic miracle of Eurasia, should be a definite “yes” after witnessing the developments and getting a first-hand knowledge of the plans of the Chinese government under the Communist Part of China (CPC) and President Xi Jinping personally for this region. My assessment is based on at least four factors that are of extreme importance for other BRI nations, especially in Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, North Africa, East Africa and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Xinjiang shares and has faced many if not all the challenges those countries are encountering:

  1. The management of severe challenges of terrorism, extremisms, and separatism, which has been achieved with efficiency and minimum damage to the people’s wellbeing, is a great success story. No terrorist incidents have been reported since 2016, after being rocked with a horrific wave of terrorist actions from the early 1990s. Many nations of the BRI west of China have been facing similar challenges but failed to deal with them in a similar manner as done here. The key to this was the focus by the Chinese government on economic and social development measures as the core method to deal with the root causes of the problem, rather than relying solely on military and security measures. The latter policy failed miserably in the 2001-2021 NATO operation in Afghanistan, for example, which exacerbated the problem of terrorism and extremism rather than solving it. This should be studied and learned from in other BRI countries.
  2. Breaking the geographical isolation of the region through massive deployment of modern infrastructure. This problem is faced by numerous nations along the China, Central Asia, West Asia Corridor of the BRI. In the first ten years of the BRI, Xinjiang was developed from an isolated corner of the country to a central logistics and transport hup of Eurasia. All this thanks to the infrastructure developed inside China and the extension of the New Silk Road to other nations.
  3. In the first ten years of the BRI, Xinjiang was a crucial but merely a bridge between China and Eurasia. But with the industrialization policy of Xinjiang, it will become a major industrial centre serving all Eurasia, especially the nations of Central Asia, South Asia, and West Asia who share close cultural and historical ties. The lessons to be learned from Xinjiang’s industrialisation are crucial for the economic development of other BRI nations.
  4. Xinjiang’s ability to develop in an extremely arid climate, plagued by desertification and water scarcity, is a great model for other nations. From the Gobi and Taklimakan deserts of China all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in the West Africa, there is one stretch of arid regions and desert belts. All the nations of the BRI across this vast stretch, as large as the surface of planet Mars, face very similar climate challenge as Xinjiang. The technologies developed and lessons learned in tackling this climate challenge in Xinjiang should be generalised and shared with all these nations. I am personally involved in the design and promotion of a peace plan for West Asia (Middle East) through my affiliation with the Schiller Institute based on the principle of “peace through economic development. The central aspect of the plan, called “The Oasis Plan”, is the development of water and basic infrastructure as a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence among the people of the region, especially the Palestinians and Israelis. What I saw in Xinjiang is a perfect example of the positive impact of economic development on security and peace.


A True Model of Development and Modernization: Korla or Shenzhen?

In one of the seminars held at the end of tour, I made a statement which surprised many of the Chinese experts and officials attending it. I was probably even misunderstood by many, by saying that I think Xinjiang in general and Korla in particular, which I fell in love with, is the best example of China’s development and modernisation. People usually choose Guangdong and Shenzhen as the model for China’s modernization. As I will explain, I believe now that Xinjiang should be promoted as the model of modernisation in China. One main reason for my assertion is that unlike Guangdong and Shenzhen that have been privileged with many economic, geographical, and demographic factors, Xinjiang was faced with much harder circumstances. Its security challenges, isolation, arid climate, and lack of social and economic privileges enjoyed by other regions since at least 1980s represented a much harder task. Guangdong and Shenzhen, which I visited last year, are amazing and admirable examples of China’s modernization. But it is almost impossible for other nations even in the industrial world to reach such hights as achieved in Shenzhen for example, let alone in developing nations. Therefore, Xinjiang is a closer example to the developing nations’ development aspirations. It is important to note here that Guangdong and Shenzhen play a very important role in the industrial and social development of Xinjiang as sister provinces with large scale investments made. This is an official policy of solidarity between wealthy provinces and less developed ones. Another example is of this policy is the Central Hospital of Kashgar, which we visited. It is fully backed by Shanghai municipality and some of the brightest physicians and surgeons from Shanghai are deployed there to perform extremely sophisticated surgical operation there to help the local people avoid travelling long distances to acquire such treatment elsewhere in China.

While many Chinese officials and experts state repeatedly that Xinjiang is still a poor part of China, what I saw was very promising and surpassed all my expectations. Before visiting Xinjiang, I considered it a mere bridge between the wealthy industrial centres in the coastal parts of China and the European markets along the New Silk Road Economic Belt, not touched by the impact of the wealth generated in the inland of China. The reality here is totally different than the perceptions. Xinjiang has become not only a major logistical hub of the BRI but is rapidly becoming a major industrial centre. Besides, it has many other cultural, historical, and climatological aspects which makes it one the most interesting regions in China and Eurasia.

Xinjiang was indeed somehow left behind in the rapid industrialization and modernization of China since the launching of the “reform and opening up” policy by Chairman Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. But the level of development of the infrastructure, urbanization, and agro-industrial productivity that has already been achieved is surprisingly high. Most of this development, as evident from what I saw, was managed in the recent years. But what is more important is what is planned for this region in the coming years by the central government. Xinjiang has become a major focus of the Chinese government not only to stabilize this previously troubled region, but because it has a very important role to play in the next ten years of the BRI and China’s growing economic and trade relations to the growing economies of Central Asia and West Asia. It will bring major advantages to the economy and foreign policy of China as a whole, due to its large resources and unique geographical position.


“To understand how big China is, you must travel to Xinjiang!”

Xinjiang, which means the “new frontier” in Chinese language, is the largest province of the People’s Republic of China with an area of 1.6 million square kilometres, which constitutes one sixth of the land area of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). To bring it closer to the imagination of the reader, this means you could fit Germany, France, Spain, and Italy together within its area. That’s why the Chinese say, “to understand how big China is, you must travel to Xinjiang, and to know how big Xinjiang is, you must travel to Kashgar!” It was therefore we had to fly from one city to the other withing Xinjiang. However, the region is extremely sparsely populated with only 25 million people inhabiting it. This is less than the population living in Shanghai (26 million) and a bit more than Beijing (21 million), or about half the population of Iraq which has only one fourth of the area of Xinjiang. This, as we will explain, might prove to be an obstacle to future economic development in Xinjiang. Most of the population is concentrated in the large cities such as Ürümqi (capital of Xinjiang Province), Kashgar (the cultural centre), Korla, Aksu, Hami, Turpan, and Shihezi.

Uyghurs constitute more than half of the population (14 million) and Han ethnic group ten million. The other one million population is divided among groups of Kyrgyz, Tajik, Kazakh, Mongol, and other ethnicities. All ethnic groups preserve and use their native languages, with Uyghur being the second official language. Contrary to narratives spread in Western mass media about the use of Uyghur language, all public space signs, from the airport to the roads, railways, subways, and markets, are in both Chinese and Uyghur language which uses an Arabic alphabet that I recognised from my mother tongue. Education in Uyghur language is available in the schools in Xinjiang from the primary to the pre-college level. Even some college-level education is available in Uyghur language with a university entry exam in Uyghur language. I show these features in my video reports.

A unique geographical feature of Xinjiang is that it borders eight countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. This factor places the region at the gateway to South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, and Europe. As in the time of the ancient Silk Road, Xinjiang is now the gateway of the Economic Belt of the New Silk Road. One of its advantages is that it has a long history of communication with all these countries and shares many ethnic, religious, and cultural features with them, making it a unique ambassador for China throughout Eurasia.

Challenging Climate

The climate in Xinjiang is arid and with a very fragile ecosystem. It is host to the second largest shifting sand desert in the world, the Taklimakan Desert. The average annual precipitation in Xinjiang is less than 150 millimetres (mm) per year. Compare this to Afghanistan (250 mm/year), Iran (240 mm/year), Saudi Arabia (150 mm/year), and Morocco (300 mm/year). But despite this fact, Xinjiang is one of the great producers of cotton, fruits, nuts, etc. I was even thrilled to see fresh seafood in the hotel restaurant where I stayed in Ürümqi and exclaimed that this must be very expensive since it must be transported long ways from the coastal areas of China. To my surprise, I was told that this fresh seafood is locally produced in fish farms in the lakes of Xinjiang.

The desert-agricultural technology I saw in the region is utilizing the most advanced tools, with water saving techniques such as drip irrigations and fumigation (covering the field with plastic film to prevent evaporation), and the use of precise mereological and satellite data for exact timing of sowing and harvesting. All these technologies and methods carry very important lessons for other nations along the New Silk Road. The narratives spread about the use of “forced labour” in cotton harvesting are absurd given the fact that this makes no economic sense. In one of the farms that we visited north of Korla, the full mechanisation of the process of harvesting cotton means that the cost per hectare of land is reduced by full five times, from 15,000 RMB per hectare if done manually to a mere 5000 RMB when done by machines.

The modern water resources management system and infrastructure which extends to all parts of Xinjiang, is a marvellous achievement. Combined with that, Xinjiang is naturally endowed with mountain ranges from the Altay Mountains in the North, Tianshan Mountains in the centre, the Kunlun Mountain range stretching from the east to the southeast, and the Pamir and Karakoram mountains in the Southwest and West. The mountains receive relatively large amounts of rain and snow. The latter two mountain ranges are located largely outside the borders of Xinjiang and the PRC, but they bring very precious water resources into the region. The mountain ranges form river basins across Xinjiang such as the Tarim River basin, which is the most important one, the Irtysh River basin, Ili River basin, and the Turpan-Hami Basin. These rivers represent the lifeline of the regions’ survival. Water transfer canals are part of the infrastructure such as the Irtysh–Karamay–Ürümqi Canal which brings water to the east from the Irtysh River which continues to flow into the Central Asia plains through Kazakhstan to the north into Russia. However, another blessing these mountains bring to the plains of Xinjiang is the replenishment of the large-scale groundwater resources that are crucial for the cotton and fruits (especially pear) farms which we visited in the plain north of the city of Korla and south of the Tianshan mountains.

The water resources management infrastructure extends long into the desert areas along the roads, such as in Yuli County of the Bayin’gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, where land continues to be reclaimed not only for reforestation but also for agriculture. An interesting principle which is used in these regions is that the ownership of state-owned arid lands can be transferred to the farmers who reclaim that land for agriculture. The farmers are then supported with the necessary infrastructure, credits for machinery, fertilizers, seeds and other necessary knowhow.

One of the personal embarrassments I felt internally was that I was thinking that when I visit the city of Korla, I would see a dusty, dry, and old-fashioned town. To my amazement I found not only one of the most modern cities, but that it was completely green, and on top of everything, an artificial river is constructed right in the middle of the city in which the locals and tourists take sightseeing boats. Green parks are strewn all over the city on both banks of the artificial river. The misconception about Korla stems from looking for city on the map to find it laying on the sand banks of the world’s second largest desert. The lesson here, once again, is: Never assume anything about China before you see it for yourself! This was a mind-blowing experience for me and the other co-travellers, especially those form Arab Gulf countries. Besides, the urban infrastructure and design of the city is of the highest world standard. The people are open and friendly like everywhere else in China. We visited one kindergarten and one social service centre for retired people in the centre of Korla. These two extremes of social life in China deserve a special article or a film, because they are quite telling where China is going.


Economy of Xinjiang

In 2023, Xinjiang was among the fastest growing regions of China, recording a 6.8% GDP growth with a total of 1,9 trillion RMB (approximately US$ 265 billion. One important misconception about the economy of Xinjiang is the wide-spread image that this region is basically a producer of cotton and fruits. In reality, the largest products in terms of value are oil, gas, and coal of which Xinjiang contains 30%, 33%, and 40% respectively of all reserves in China. The petrochemical industry thrives in this region. Important non-hydrocarbon minerals are abundant in Xinjiang including rare earth metals. The second largest export of the region is, surprisingly, not cotton and textiles, but machinery and cars. Some of the largest machine builders in China such as Sany have large plants in the region. Even foreign companies, such as German car maker Volkswagen, have large factories in Ürümqi, although it is coming under massive pressure to from the U.S. to abandon its investments there. Both Sany and VW are located in the same industrial park in Urumqi. Allegations of the use of “forced labour” in VW plants in Xinjiang were thoroughly debunked by an independent investigation conducted by Berlin-based consultancy Löning in 2023. Cotton and textiles production comes in the third or fourth place in terms of the province’s share of exports both to inland China and abroad. Here too, mechanization is becoming the norm rather than the mythical manual labour. In Yuli, we visited the Lihua Textile Co., which owns the world’s largest fully mechanised, fully digitalized textile plant. It holds the world record in the length of the spindle thread cone winder production line. It operates using Swiss machinery largely. The speed and production capacity are mindboggling. Very few workers could be seen inside the plant.


New level of industrialization

The industrial goods production, dedicated for export to the countries in the West will witness an extraordinary boost in the coming years as investments in large industrial zones are assuming breathtaking levels. Last year witnessed the launching of the new Xinjiang Pilot Free Economic Zone (PFTZ) by the central government, which will lift the region into new economic hights and boost its position in the Eurasian economic sphere. More focus will be placed on moving some of the industrial supply chains for intermediary goods closer to these economic zones to reduce cost and increase efficiency of delivery. Some of the new goods that will be produced, besides advanced machinery and textiles, are electronics and home appliances, rail transportation equipment, agricultural and animal husbandry machinery, and equipment used in processing agricultural products. Green technologies, like photovoltaic solar panels and related equipment are also among the top products of the region.  All these will be dedicated for export to neighbouring countries and further west.

To boost the economic and social development of Xinjiang, the central government and other wealthier regions are pouring unfathomable amounts of financial resources into Xinjiang. Last year alone, according to governor Erkin Tuniyaz, Xinjiang received 565 billion yuan (equivalent to US$78 billion). Other provinces in China, especially Guangdong, which has a special economic role in Xinjiang as some sort of a sister province, added the equivalent of US$ 2 billion in aid to the province. To put this in perspective, this sum is larger than China’s loans and grants to all 54 African nations in three years, which was about 60 billion US$, as pledged by President Xi in the 2019 Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). This shows the commitment of the central government and the magnitude of its economic plans for the region.  The government is also providing exclusive advantages to foreign investors such as tax breaks, lower tariffs on imported equipment, and lower prices of leased land for building plants.

In the past few years, three million people of this region were lifted out of extreme poverty. But this is mostly in rural areas and smaller towns and villages. The level of modernisation I witnessed in large cities such as Ürümqi , Kashgar, and Korla, is way beyond what is imagined by outsiders. These cities’ infrastructure, urban design and services are at the same level or even surpass many of the major cities in Europe. The fact that these cities were just built recently, with the deployment of state-of-the-art technologies and know-how made their late-coming modernisation an advantage. A city like Korla, is shockingly modern in every aspect. I will provide video material on the social media platforms of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden to give a sense of this, because mere words would not do justice to the description.


Digital trade and logistics

Taking advantage of the geographical location of Xinjiang, a large scale upgrading of logistics centres and digital trade technologies is taking place in the region. We visited the Kashi Comprehensive Bonded Zone Cross-Border E-Commerce Import and Export Trading Centre in the Kashgar economic zone. The level of digitalization of the services from the moment an order is placed on goods, no matter how small or large they may be, is in every part of the process of delivering that order to any part of the world is highly sophisticated.

Most of the orders and shipping is to nearby Central Asian countries and Pakistan. But it will extend even more beyond that. Digital technology research and development centres are part of the PFTZ, and computing technologies are brought here from the advanced provinces such as Guangdong. In addition, facilities for foreign financial institutions are created where they receive assistance from local banks and financial institutions to make the digital trade flow smoothly. A new financial infrastructure is now connected to the digital trade both nationally and internationally.

Demographic Dilemma

The demographics and relative lower-skill capacity in the region compared to other advanced regions might rapidly become a bottleneck for industrial development. Contrary to the narratives spread in Western mass media, population growth and birth rates in Xinjiang are much higher than the rest of China. The one-child policy, which was practiced all over China, never applied to the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Families with two or three children is the norm. There is now practically no limit for the number of children. However, like other parts of China, due to increased living standard and greater opportunities for women to earn higher income through work, the birth rate is slowing down even in Xinjiang. Young people race to acquire decent income through higher education and better employment and thus refrain from early marriage and building families. Only in the rural areas, from which young people are moving to larger cities, the traditional family structure with more children is still maintained. For the rapid industrial development, it would be imperative to both attract labour from other parts of China and increase the capacity building process. The vocational training centres, which were part of the operation to combat extremism and terrorism were all closed in 2019 according to the government. But even those were dedicated to low-end skills and do not reach the required levels of modern industrial and service jobs. I did not get a clear answer to where the skilled labour for all the industrial and services jobs will come from. But it is a question worth exploring.

Infrastructure in Xinjiang: “Going West” Strategy

It is difficult to understand the massive development of the infrastructure of Xinjiang without looking at the larger context of China’s development and opening up, especially the strategy called “going west”. The Chinese government launched the Western Region Development Strategy (WRDS) in 2000 to balance and bridge the widening economic gap between the coastal eastern and southern regions and the western inland regions. The most important part of the WRDS was the building of infrastructure, especially energy and transport. Between 2000 and 2016, the Chinese government invested the equivalent of US$ 914 billion in such infrastructure in the western regions which encompass Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Tibet, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi and Qinghai. More investments continued even after 2016.

The “Going West Strategy” was accelerated with President Xi assuming the position of the General Secretary of the CPC in 2012 and President of the PRC 2013, and the launching of the BRI later that same year to both enhance the economic development of western regions and also connect to the neighbouring countries. A major development that further enhanced the development of the western regions was the launching of the Western Region Land-Sea Corridor in 2019, which advanced the geographical advantage of cooperation with both southeast Asian countries and with Europe. Thus, the WRDS became integrated into the BRI. Rail development specifically, took breathtaking leaps in this process. The 2,000 km Qinghai-Tibet railway, and the 1,900 km Lanzhou-Xinjiang high-speed passenger railway were the longest and most spectacular projects of the WRDS.

With regards to Xinjiang, from 2012 to 2022, 62,200 km of new highways were built bringing the total length of highways in the region to 217,300 km. Two of the highways traverse the Taklimakan Desert itself. At the same time, China completed the world’s first “desert loop” railway around the Taklimakan Desert with a length of 2,700 km. The loop links all the major cities of southern Xinjiang such as Aksu, Kashgar, Hutan and Korla, enhancing the connectivity and economic development of the region.

Xinjiang is connected to the inland of the country from the north through Gansu Province and the Lanzhou–Ürümqi  high-speed railway, which was completed in 2014. This line follows the ancient Silk Road from Xi’an westward. From the south of the region, Xinjiang will be connected through Tibet along the Tibet-Xinjiang railway which is under construction.

Xinjiang has also one of the largest concentrations of airports in China due to the huge distances both between its cities and to other parts of the country. Travelling between Ürümqi, Kashgar and Korla, we had to fly to be able to use our time efficiently. The region has 25 civil airports, with six of them built in the past six years. The Ürümqi airport is an international airport with at least 20 international destinations. The Xinjiang Airport Group operates 451 domestic routes to every part of China. As Tourism boomed in the region, air traffic assumed a major role in bringing part of the 250 million (!) passengers from around China to Xinjiang in 2023. This is about 10 times the population of Xinjiang itself. The region’s revenues from tourism in 2023 reached 297 billion yuan (about US$ 41.77 billion U.S. dollars), up 227 percent year on year. Thus, tourism is becoming a major income source for the population in the region, and besides, enhances the integration and communication between the different ethnic groups of the nation. In recent years, the Chinese government made big efforts to promote Xinjiang as a major destination for cultural and ecological tourism. For example, the CCTV televised national 2024 Spring Festival Gala event was broadcast from the Old City of Kashgar, where a major traditional festival was held. This is the most important cultural and traditional event of the year for the whole nation. There are 700 hotels in Kashgar offering around 40,000 beds to tourists.


Xinjiang’s Role as the Logistics Hub of Eurasia

Xinjiang is located on three of the six main BRI corridors: the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the China-Central Asia-West Asia (“Middle East”) Corridor, and the New Eurasian Corridor (China-Central Asia-Europe). Three major land-ports are the gateway from China to these three corridors: Kashagar-Khunjarab, Alashankou, and Horgos. In total, 17 authorised border ports including 2 for air transport and 15 for land transport exist along Xinjiang’s borders with the countries to the west.

In May 2023, a historic summit held in Xi’an brough together China’s President Xi Jinping with the leaders of the five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan). This summit and the subsequent March 2024 establishment of the joint secretariat and other mechanisms of free trade and communication brough the role of Xinjiang and the Central Asian nations into a new light. Several new transport infrastructure projects are under way, the most important of which is the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan Highway and the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway and phase two of the China-Tajikistan Highway. Trade between China and the Central Asian nations reached US$ 90 billion in 2023, an increase of 27% year on year, and is poised to increase even more. Xinjiang takes the lion’s share of this trade.

The China-EU Rail Express (CEER) which we thoroughly studied in the previous articles and interviews   is one of the main gateways for critical goods freight between China and the EU. In 2011, when the railway service was started, only 17 trains made the trip between China and the EU. By 2023, the number of trains moving along the CEER reached 16,000 trains per year. That year, the number of trains moving between Xinjiang and the EU destinations reached 11,000, an increase of more than 10%. The Horgos port alone has operated 77 railway routes connecting to 45 cities in 18 countries in Europe. China and Kazakhstan have many plans to enhance the CEER capacity and add new routes to it, such as the Middle Corridor (also known as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor) that would link China to the Black Sea from Kazakhstan’s Caspian Sea port of Aktau to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.

The Central Asian nations, especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, are becoming more than a land-bridge between China and Europe. Their economies are booming with foreign direct investments from both East and West pouring into their emerging economies. With the New Silk Road, the disadvantage of being landlocked nations is disappearing. Their natural resources are coming into play in the international economy. The growth of their economies will be boosted by machinery and technology provided by the new industrial zones of Xinjiang. The case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, although less shiny examples than the Central Asian nations, are on a much better path towards development than the past 40 years of geopolitical proxy wars. Further to the West, Iran and the Arab countries in the Gulf and Egypt are emerging as new economic centres. The December 2022 summit between President Xi and the leaders of the Arab World highlighted the enormous potential that exists for cooperation, industrialization, and trade. Iran (a non-Arab country) also signed a 25-year comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement with China in March 2023. The same month China brokered the Iran-Saudi Arabia restoration of diplomatic relations. By the end of the year 2023, Iran, Saudi Arabian, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Ethiopia were all admitted into the BRICS (Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa) creating the BRIX Plus. These nations are also either full members or observers in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which is increasingly moving from being a mere security cooperation organisation into an economic cooperation mechanism. Russia is also emerging as a key trade and investment partner of China after its doors towards the EU were practically closed after the February 2022 war with Ukraine. Xinjiang plays a major role in all these architectures.

China’s energy security in the coming decades will depend on securing, through cooperation and diplomacy, this whole region to the shores of the Red Sea. Central Asia and the Persian Gulf countries are the main suppliers of China’s oil and gas needs. Russia has also emerged as the complementary major energy exporter to China. China’s economic stability depends largely on the safe and continuous flow of oil and gas from these regions to its ports. Geopolitical tension can make strategic chokepoints like the Hormuz Strait and the Malacca Strait a major source of insecurity for China and its partners. Therefore, land-based energy corridors along the Economic Belt of the New Silk Road and Xinjiang will assume increasing importance and attention in the coming decades. Currently, four major pipelines carry around 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to China through Xinjiang. This is exactly as much gas as the ill-fated Baltic-Sea based Nord Stream 1 was carrying from Russia to Germany before it was sabotaged in September 2022.

Conclusion of Part I

My personal conclusion concerning the Chinese economic policy in Xinjiang, is that it attempts first to make Xinjiang economically self-sustaining rather than perpetually receiving “aid” from other provinces and the central government. We all know how the aid policy the West followed in its relationship to Africa, for example, merely perpetuated poverty, making the poor nations of Africa dependant on aid. “Teaching a man how to fish” is the main principle in the Chinese policy both domestically and internationally. It does not aim at egalitarianism but to provide equal opportunity for all to shine and grow. Second, Xinjiang will not only be self-sustaining, but will contribute to the wealth of the nation of China when all the investments in the industrial and logistics zones start generating income. It is in a similar manner that, surprisingly, the Chinese government under the CPC is promoting the traditions and culture of the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups, rather than supressing them, not only because it is a good cause, but that the Uyghur and other ethnic minorities’ culture are considered to be enriching the whole nation’s cultural stock. I will take up this question in a later article and video where I back this claim with evidence I found during my tour.

Xinjiang is a region of great promise, and many new surprises are in store as the government plans for economic development in the region accelerate. Its importance for the BRI and economic development and peace in the whole of Eurasia cannot be underestimated. It is no exaggeration to assert that Xinjiang will be the new economic miracle of Eurasia.

The most important lesson here is that only by seeing reality and exploring this region and meeting its people, you may understand the reality of the situation here. Although my trip was short, and I would like to go back and see more places and meet more people, travelling to Xinjiang is the first step in removing all ambiguities and misunderstandings.

Furthermore, Xinjiang is uniquely positioned and fits squarely as a model for the four major initiatives launched by President Xi Jinping: the BRI in 2013, the Global Development Initiative (GDI) in 2021, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) in 2022, and the Globel Civilization Initiative (GCI) in 2023. Besides, it serves as a great example of the harmonious co-existence of the fascinating panoply of 56 ethnic groups of China striving together to achieve the 2049 goal of “building a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful” and achieving the “rejuvenation of the nation”.

Xinjiang has long surpassed the stage of stabilization and establishment of peace and security and is moving into a new stage. Its isolated geographical location has been transformed to a great advantage for all of China due to the BRI. Its ethnic diversity has been transformed from a potential source of divisiveness and separatism into a source national cultural enrichment and of unity for the whole nation with all its ethnic groups.

All these developments that are little known outside China and unfortunately obscured by the fog of geopolitically motivated narratives about this region, were a real eye-opener for even someone like me who thought he had a closer view at developments in Xinjiang and China that the average person. What I lay out here are somewhat basic information that have been confirmed by my own travel in the region. But mere words do not do justice to the reality of the situation. Therefore, I will supplement my written reports with extensive video materials that give a more optical sense and brings the viewer closer to reality. These can be viewed on the YouTube channel and X.com accounts of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden.

In part II, I will discuss the issues of security, religion, and culture in Xinjiang, including the allegations of suppression of cultural and religious rights of ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs.


* Hussein Askary is co-author of the 2017 book “Extending the New Silk Road to West Asia and Africa”.

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