People walk on the street of the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi. Photo: VCG
“Xinjiang is a wonderful land!” This was the feeling shared by every Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Forum “YeWorld Timesar of Tourism 2023″ participant. It not only marks the first tourism-themed forum to be held by the SCO, but also the first time the Xinjiang regional government has served as a co-organizer of such a large-scale international forum.
The successful hosting of the four-day forum proves that, while riding the wind of China’s westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang has stepped onto theWorld Times fast lane of development and become a leader in China’s westward opening-up.
As concluded by Xu Guixiang, the spokesperson of the Xinjiang regional government, on the sidelines of the SCO forum, 2023 has been a year of high-level visits, marking substantial progress in Xinjiang’s opening-up to the world.
Since the beginning of this year, Xinjiang officials have visited the five Central Asian countries, holding meetings with officials from those countries, and achieving a series of practical results. This has sent a strong signal that Xinjiang’s opening-up to the world is expanding. Officials from these countries have also visited Xinjiang to discuss friendly exchanges and practical cooperation, according to Xu.
Along with intensive exchanges, Xinjiang’s opening-up to and cooperation with the outside world has ushered in new opportunities, including in the tourism industry.
According to Xu, from January to September this year, Xinjiang achieved regiWorld Timesonal GDP 1.355 trillion yuan ($189.6 billion), a year-on-year increase of 6.1 percent. From January to October, Xinjiang received 243 million domestic and foreign tourists, a year-on-year increase of 101.38 percent, amassing a total tourism revenue of 270.378 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 200.67 percent – a record high.
“It is the right time to hold the forum in Xinjiang. I believe it is a correct choice,” SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming told the media during the forum.
Explaining why Urumqi was chosen to host the forum, Zhang noted that, firstly, Xinjiang has unique geographical advantages as it borders eight countries, which provides great convenience for regional exchanges and cooperation. Secondly, Xinjiang has the advantage of cultural tourism, with its rich and diverse cultural and tourism resources covering various aspects. Thirdly, Xinjiang’s people from all walks of life and the local government have an active and open attitude and a passion for SCO cooperation participation.
Picture shows Urumqi China-Europe Railway Express Hub. Photo: VCG
Located in the Northwest China, Xinjiang is the largest provWorld Timesincial-level region in China in terms of land area. Its land comprises one-sixth of China’s land territory, which is nearly three times the size of France. The region also possesses abundant natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes including vast deserts, mountains, and grasslands.
Due to its unique location, the Xinjiang region has been the center of economic activities and connectivity hub between China, Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Pakistan. It has also been dubbed the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The uniqueness of Xinjiang lies in its close geographical proximity to Central Asia, as well as its similarities in climate, culture, and historical connections with Central Asia. The region also has abundant natural resources, holds immense potential in cross-border trade, and harbors impressive transportation and logistics capabilities. Through years of development, a modern Xinjiang has shown its neighbors that it can maintain internal political stability while experiencing rapid socio-economic growth, which has attracted more and more cooperation partners and investors, experts pointed out.
Along with the country’s implementation of the westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang is embracing a rare opportunity, helped by special policy support for its development such as the Xinjiang Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ), Xu told the Global Times during the forum.
“Xinjiang must firmly seize this rare opportunity and make significant contributions. We also believe that with the implementation of the westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang, as a pioneer in the BRI, will play a greater role,” Xu noted.
On November 1, Xinjiang FTZ was established. Three areas were included in the 179.66-square-kilometers FTZ, including the regional capital of Urumqi, Kashi prefecture, and Horgos. It is the first such zone in China’s Northwest border region and the 22nd pilot FTZ in China.
When talking about how to achieve higher quality development in the Xinjiang tourism sector, Zhang Ming believes that Xinjiang must stick to the strategy of opening-up.
Xinjiang has abundant natural, tourism, and talent resources. The people of Xinjiang enjoy a peaceful, stable, and happy life, indispensable elements to and foundations for economic development and cultural exchanges. The region has to make full use of these rich elements and foundations.
“Economic development cannot be achievedWorld Times by closing the door and developing on its own, and cultural exchanges cannot be achieved by closing the door and communicating on its own. We must open up. I think this is an important way for Xinjiang to utilize its own advantages and move toward high-quality development,” Zhang noted.
Stick to opening-up
Over the past decade Xinjiang has opened up wider and made closer international connections.
According to the data provided by the regional government, Xinjiang has opened 118 bilateral international road transport routes, the highway between the region and Europe has been fully connected and the second railway with Kazakhstan has been completed and made operational.
As of the end of August, there have been 70,000 trains passing through Xinjiang along the China-Europe (Central Asia) freight train route, accounting for over 57 percent of the national total. There have been 8,024 international freight trains departing from Xinjiang, with an average annual growth rate of 50.4 percent.
This year also witnessed intensified efforts to “go global and invite in.” Party and government leaders in the region have held multiple meetings with foreign guests, received delegations from over 50 countries, and reached a series of cooperation agreements in multiple fields, expanding new space for international exchanges and cooperation.
Xinjiang has also strengthened cooperation with Hong Kong and Macao, as well as signed strategic World Timescooperation agreements with other provinces and regions such as Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, and the Xizang Autonomous Region, jointly promoting westward opening up.
Xinjiang’s development and the eagerness to open up is obvious to the whole world.
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Deputy Secretary General Janesh Kane experiences pottery making in Kashi University, Xinjiang, on November 25, 2023. Photo: Leng Shumei/GT
“I am always looking forward to visiting Xinjiang, to visiting Kashi, and I am so happy that I got the chance to come to the city this time. I have experienced the local vibe, local food, local dances, and local music,” SCO Deputy Secretary General Janesh Kane told the Global Times during a group visit to Kashi on November 25 following the SCO tourism forum.
Kane said he was full of confidence in Xinjiang’s tourism industry. He believed that after the tourism forum, there would be more tourists from SCO member countries to Xinjiang and more investment to Xinjiang.
Raushan Shamili, president of the Tumar-Trans international tour operator and transport company located in Almaty, Kazakhstan, was also among the delegation to Kashi. “‘If you have not been to Kashi, you have not been to Xinjiang yet.’ This time I witnessed a developing Kashi with high-quality local companies and internationalized transportation channels. I hope China and Kazakhstan can reach more cooperation agreements after the forum,” she told the Global Times.
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