Children run on a street in the old town of Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Sept. 20, 2015. Kashgar, the westernmost city in China, was the center of Uygur civilization for centuries, a place where people came together to trade and spread Islamic learning, on the caravan routes from Europe and Persia to China. (Xinhua/Zhang Cheng)
MOSCOW, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding, is expected to play a bigger role in promoting mutual development in Central Asia with the progress of the Silk Road Economic Belt, a Russian expert said.
Xinjiang has grown into a huge regional trade center, as high-speed motorways and railways built in recent years have provided channels for goods and services from countries that do not boast access to China's developed regions, Yuri Tavrovsky, professor with People's Friendship University of Russia, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
"Actually, Xinjiang may become a free trade zone center of incredible dimensions," he added.
The Silk Road Economic Belt, together with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, commonly known as the "Belt and Road" initiative, were proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. It brings together countries in Asia, Europe and even Africa via overland and maritime networks with the purpose of boosting infrastructure building, financial cooperation and cultural exchanges among those regions.
During Xi's visit to Moscow in early May, he and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement on combining the "Belt and Road" initiative with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) framework.
The combination will open broader prospects for countries which border Xinjiang or are close to it and do not have access to sea ports, and the synergy formed during this cooperation will be facilitated by the infrastructure programs that the Chinese government is promoting in Xinjiang, Tavrovsky said.
The EEU is a regional organization grouping Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. Its main objectives are to form a single market, create more opportunities for the free flow of goods, services, investment and labor forces within the borders of the member countries by 2025, as well as introduce a coordinated economic policy.
"Much will depend on linking the existing Chinese infrastructure to that in Central Asian countries and in Russia, creating new projects which will permit unhampered and rapid circulation of goods on the huge space of the Eurasian heartland," he said.
The Chinese government has been trying to transform Xinjiang into a highly developed region, the expert said, investing massively in industrial and agricultural projects with advanced technologies in order to raise the quality of local life.
Tavrovsky noted that the Chinese government has chosen the right strategy to develop Xinjiang, which helped bring its potential into full play.
Aware of that the tremendous natural resources in Xinjiang cannot be explored without enough manpower, the Chinese government has been encouraging citizens from neighboring regions to move to Xinjiang, as they were better acquainted with local customs and traditions, as well as religions and languages, Tavrovsky said.
Having attended several festivities dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the autonomous region, Tavrovsky said he was greatly impressed by the sincerity of local ethnic groups in celebrating the event.
"The respect from the Chinese government to local traditions is perfectly evident during the celebrations. Local ethnic groups are granted holiday leave. People can observe rituals, including animal sacrifices," he said.
"I witnessed the results of massive investments in the construction of mosques, religious schools, and in preserving ancient culture monuments," the expert added.