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Move to 'Go West' reaps encouraging rewards
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The country's "Go West" policy to develop the lagging western regions is gaining ground, a United Nations report has shown.

The heartening signs are largely from government efforts to improve trade and investment, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said in its latest annual survey of the region.

The report highlighted trade, specifically exports, of the western regions showing a more rapid rise than those of the coastal regions, even though western regions started from lower levels.

"A particularly encouraging trend for China's neighbors is the relatively rapid export growth seen in many western regions," the survey said.

"The government is encouraging this trend through extensive projects to improve cross-border transportation."

The country's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which shares borders with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan, is being seen as China's gateway to Central Asia. The region's trade with Central Asia has tripled since 2002, reaching a record $9 billion in 2006, the report said.

In the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, cross-border trade has also grown with neighboring Vietnam, rising by close to 50 percent in 2006 to $1.8 billion. Similarly, Yunnan province's trade links have reportedly expanded with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, while Mongolia and Russia have reported rapid increases in trade with the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

The "Go West" policy, started in 1999, is aimed at narrowing per capita gross domestic product (GDP) income disparities, currently considered among the highest in the world, the ESCAP reported.

Priorities of the western development strategy include infrastructure construction, environmental protection, industrial upgrading, human capital accumulation, and science and technology research.

The report added that growth in the western regions was also supported by greater foreign direct investment and backed by research and development.

"Foreign direct investment, a focus of the 'Go West' policy, increased substantially in a quarter of the western provinces," the survey added.

The ESCAP said that growth was reported for Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi, Chongqing and Yunnan, along with a recent rapid increase in foreign direct investment in Sichuan, Inner Mongolia and Shaanxi.

Research and development spending also reportedly grew more rapidly in four of the 12 western regions - Ningxia Hui, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Uygur - than most coastal provinces.

These, the ESCAP said, helped final consumption increase more "in a quarter of the western provinces than in the majority of coastal provinces".

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