Though located in China's hinterland, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is becoming a new frontier of opening up. The China (Xinjiang) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) was officially inaugurated on November 1, making it the 22nd FTZ in China and the first in the country's northwestern border regions.
Covering an area of 1.66 million square km, about one sixth of China's total land area, Xinjiang borders eight countries—Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has a larger land area, a larger number of neighboring countries and a longer land border than any other provincial-level administrative region in China. Home to all 56 of the country's ethnic groups, the autonomous region has a population of 25.8 million, of whom 11.6 million belong to the Uygur ethnic minority.
According to a plan issued by the Central Government, the Xinjiang Pilot FTZ will be given greater autonomy in carrying out reforms and encouraged to cultivate industries unique to the region. The pilot FTZ has three subzones—in Urumqi, Kashgar and Khorgas, also known as Horgos. Urumqi is the capital city of Xinjiang, while Kashgar and Khorgas are both border cities.
The Urumqi subzone will focus on international trade, modern logistics, advanced manufacturing, textile and garment industries as well as emerging industries such as biomedicine, new energy, new materials, software and information technology services. The Kashgar subzone will focus on labor-intensive industries such as deep processing of agricultural products and assembly lines for electronic products. The Khorgas subzone will prioritize cross-border logistics, cross-border tourism, financial services, exhibitions and other modern services industries.
The plan has outlined detailed measures in 25 areas. These include promoting trade facilitation and strengthening economic and trade cooperation with neighboring countries. Xinjiang's geographic location makes it a hub along the New Eurasian Land Bridge, an international passageway linking the Pacific and the Atlantic and one of the economic corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative, a China-proposed initiative that aims to strengthen connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.
The Xinjiang FTZ is poised to serve as a bridgehead for China's westward opening up, help build a China-Central Asia free trade area and cement the bond between Asia and Europe.