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Xinjiang, A Natural Reserve Bonanza

Abundant natural resources and geographical location form a solid foundation for Xinjiang's economic growth in the coming years, said Ismail Tiliwaldi, chairman of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Tiliwaldi was speaking at a press conference Friday afternoon during a break in the ongoing Third Session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC).

Tiliwaldi said that the western development campaign is the engine driving Xinjiang's rapid advances. The region has reported double-digit GDP growth in the past two years, while fiscal revenue in 2004 reached 14.8 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion), up 18 percent.

The campaign, which the central government launched in 1998, has meant enormous capital investment in infrastructure construction in western China: Xinjiang alone has nearly 100 projects on the construction list. Its fixed asset investment in 2004 reached 120 billion yuan (US$14.5 billion), up 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) from the previous year.

Last year, the central government urged Xinjiang to accelerate development on all fronts. President Hu Jintao assured the Xinjiang delegation of NPC deputies when he met with them on March 8 that the western development strategy would stay on course.

But Tiliwaldi is looking closely at the road ahead for Xinjiang. "We need to transform our resource advantages into economic advantages," he said.

Xinjiang has the largest oil, coal and natural gas reserves in the country, accounting for 30 percent, 40 percent and 35 percent, respectively, of the nation's total. It also produces a large share of China's cotton, wool, sugar beets, grapes and tomatoes.

To optimize its advantages, the autonomous region plans to build production bases for grain, cotton, livestock, forestry and fruit.

Meanwhile, crude oil, natural gas and coal processing are listed as pillar industries.

At least 10 senior executives from domestic oil and power giants visited Xinjiang last year, Tiliwaldi said. Luneng Group, one of China's power giants, plans to set up a thermal power to tap coal resources there.

The 1,200-kilometer China-Kazakhstan oil pipeline, linking Atasu in Kazakhstan to Dushanzi in Xinjiang, began operating in September last year. The country's first major land oil-import route, it will supply 10 million tons of crude oil annually when the final phase is completed. At the beginning of this year, the China National Petroleum Corporation got the green light to expand its refinery capacity at Dushanzi.

Xinjiang is centrally located in the Eurasian continent, on the northwest frontier of China. It shares borders with eight other countries, and 16 Class A land ports are scattered along its 5,600-kilometer boundary.

Six of the neighboring counties -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an intergovernmental organization originally focusing on regional security. At last year's Tashkent summit, the SCO member countries agreed to make economic cooperation a focus as well, which provides huge opportunities for Xinjiang's border trade.

In 2004, Xinjiang's foreign trade totaled about 5.3 billion yuan (US$640.9 million), up 15 percent from the previous year, and the figure is expected to rise further. 

The local government will reconstruct the railway in Alataw Pass to facilitate transportation capacity, Tiliwaldi said.

(China.org.cn by staff reporter Tang Fuchun, March 12, 2005)

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