Prosperity for Xinjiang along the new Silk Road development corridor
William Jones (USA)
The vast sweep of central Eurasia, with its large expanses of mountains and deserts, for several centuries has been regarded as something of a backwater of civilization squeezed between the advancing nations of Europe and Russia, on the one hand, and the East Asian nations, on the other. The way of life was slow and difficult and often disturbed by the vagaries of climate as well as the movements of the encroaching colonial powers as they played the Great Game of control in the region.
But this had not always been the case. At the beginning of the last millennium the region served as the crossroads of culture. China, a largely agricultural society, was at that time more developed than the European countries. Indeed, China’s four great inventions, the compass, gunpowder, printing and papermaking were transmitted along the great trade route of the ancient Silk Road to Europe and the West, which ran through today’s Xinjiang and Central Asia, laying the basis for the development of European culture. And it was China’s desire, during the Han Dynasty, to find allies in the West to help counter the threat on her northern borders from the nomadic Xiongnu tribes, which would occasionally devastated the country that led to the first attempts to open up that route. And while it was a transmission belt for Chinese silk and other commodities, it was also a transmission belt for ideas, and served as the paradigm of a dialogue of civilizations.
During the course of the 19th century, the region was subject to great turmoil, becoming the setting for the Great Game of the colonial powers. Three main countries were involved in this: Russia, Great Britain, and China. In reality, the “Great Game” was largely fought out between Great Britain and Russia, the two nations that wished to assert hegemony over the region. But by the end of World War II, the British Empire was fading, (although British Imperial designs have never faded). During the post-war settlement, China, which had retained suzerainty over Xinjiang on and off since the Han Dynasty, remained in control of Xinjiang as the Soviet Union abandoned any claims to the region.
At the time, it probably didn’t appear to be very advantageous to the inhabitants of Xinjiang, which comprised a population of Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrghiz, and dozens of other ethnic groups. At the end of the civil war in China, the People’s Liberation Army entered Xinjiang. While a poor developing country, China in 1954 created the Xinjiang Construction and Engineering Corps (XPCC), a semi-military organization with great engineering capabilities, similar to the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Part of their purpose was to protect the borders, but the XPCC cadre also focused on seriously building up the region, with a prime emphasis on developing Xinjiang’s agriculture.
With the reform and opening up in 1979, Chinese development started to take off. While initially entering the world economy as a low-wage manufacturer, China used its position to “leap-frog” to higher levels of productivity by emphasizing scientific and technological development. This policy ultimately paid off, with the beginnings of a well-off society, particularly in the coastal regions, the heart of Chinese manufacturing for export.
While these developments initially may not have immediately alleviated to any great extent, the situation in Xinjiang, a more impoverished region in China’s west, the egalitarian thrust of the Chinese Communist Party could not long permit growing disparities between the increasing wealth in the east and the widespread poverty in the Western region. This led the Chinese Government to initiate its “Western development” policy, which became official policy in the year 2000. This was aimed at bringing economic development and the improvement of the conditions of life of the people, to the Western regions, including, most importantly Xinjiang.
The realization of this development depended on creating greater connectivity between the eastern coastal regions and the land-locked Western regions. In that respect there was an emphasis on the development of the railroad. In line with the Chinese proverb, if you want prosperity, first build a road, China started to focus on this important rail connectivity. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, part of the border to the Soviet Union was now a border with several other countries, including an independent Kazahkstan. Kazakhstan had already built a rail connection to Xinjiang in 1990 establishing the first direct rail links and increased trade between China and Central Asia. As China completed its own railroad to Xinjiang, this opened up trade between all of China and Central Asia and Europe.
This was the origin of what became known as the Eurasian Landbridge, the first east-west rail cnnection from the Atlantic to the Pacific since the creation of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Around the same period of time, the projections of such a landbridge were being considered by economist and statesman Lyndon LaRouche and his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the LaRouches had developed the concept of a Productive Triangle going from Berlin to Vienna to Paris, which could be developed as an integrated production and export center for the world economy, and, in particular, would serve to integrate the economies of East Germany and the East European nations by raising their level of productivity rather than shutting down their industries. It was an attempt to integrate the less productive capabilities of the East European and East German economies into an overall program of development. By 1991, this program was expanded to include the development of transcontinental rail corridors “spiraling” from the Productive Triangle region into Central, East and South Asia.
A series of conferences and discussions between the LaRouche people and Russian and Chinese friends led to the proposal for China to hold a conference on this project. For those involved this was no longer simply a matter of a mere transportation grid but rather a system of connectivity that would transform the entire shape of the Eurasian continent and the world. Such a project of infrastructural investment would provide for the developing countries along its route a way out of the straight jacket of the increasingly speculative and crisis-ridden New York-London financial system, which had become for most of them, a real debt trap, and would provide a path forward.
While the Chinese government was willing to hold a conference on the Eurasian Land-bridge, already called the New Silk Road, they were keen on having the participation of the European nations. But initially the European Commission, which was becoming the grand arbiter of European nations’ policies, was simply not enthusiastic about the project. By 1995, however, they had agreed to send a representative to a Beijing conference. So in 1996, the conference was held under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology with the participation of Helga Zepp-LaRouche as well as with the attendance of the rather non-committal Leon Brittan from the European Commission.
The project began to bring prosperity to the Western region, including Xinjiang, with an increase in foreign investment. But when President Xi Jinping in 2013 made his famous announcement about the Silk Road Economic Belt as the number one policy item for the Chinese Government, it was clear that this project would henceforth be on a fast track. The effect on the economy of Xinjiang has been breath-taking. The capital city of Urumqi has been named a Core Region of the Belt and Road Initiative, and anyone who has traveled recently to Urumqi has found a booming metropolis. Already 111 routes have been built connecting Xinjiang with five neighboring countries. One of the main lines of the Eurasian Landbridge connecting China with Western Europe runs through the Urumqi railroad hub. Kashgar is a main hub connecting to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. As reported in 2019, over 925 kilometers of railroad had been built and 2,013 are under construction. In addition, China has built or expanded nine airports in Xinjiang.
Like many other regions in China, Xinjiang is also the subject of poverty alleviation. Particularly in southern Xinjiang, the issue of poverty alleviation is of paramount importance. Numerous projects have been undertaken to help create businesses and improve productivity in the region, particularly in agriculture. The overall development projects, like the highway through the Taklamakan Desert and the various reforestation projects in which China has gained considerable expertise, have had a direct effect on the lives of the people of Xinjiang. A major part has been played by many of the education centers that have been established in the province, often mis-characterized as “concentration camps” in the Western media, by people who generally have never been to visit them. While these centers are also a key element in combating radical Islam and the associated terrorist acts which have been perpetrated by their adherents in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, they are also providing the internees with needed skills, including Chinese language skills, which will empower them for productive employment in the expanding economy. And let’s be clear, the chaos that had been created in the Middle East and Afghanistan by U.S. policy in the last several decades, has led to an increase in international terrorism, whether it be Brzezinski’s support for the Mujahideen or George Bush’s foolish Iraq War. The entire region has suffered from this terrorism, as has Xinjiang, where radical elements were recruited to fight in Syria to gain training in terror methods that they could bring back to their homeland. The necessary measures to combat this by the Chinese Government prevented Xinjiang from becoming another Afghanistan and the world should be grateful for that.
But the general thrust of what we’re seeing is clear. The initiation of the Belt and Road Initiative has opened new possibilities for global development not based on the West’s bankrupt “shareholder value” but on the notion of the people’s livelihood. As some in the West are intent on maintaining Western control over the economic “rules of the road”, rules which have hindered the economic development of Asia and Africa, and have led to real economic set-backs in Latin America, the new dynamic introduced by the Belt and Road Initiative would represent a new paradigm of development, a paradigm that clearly asserts the equality of nations, big and small. And China was the one to raise this important issue because of its own history and traditions. The desperate attempt to launch a new “Cold War” in order to build a new “Iron Curtain” around China (and Russia), which certain Anglo-American circles are trying to accomplish, is doomed to failure. The nations of the world will not accept a return to “business as usual” and the disastrous conditions of the world economy left by the still unresolved 2008 financial crisis, when they have seen the tremendous possibilities opened up by the BRI, Even the developed nations of Europe have benefited greatly by the new opportunities presented by their collaboration with the BRI. And the United States itself, with China as its major trading partner, would benefit immensely from the policy if they would put aside their lame-brained, but dangerous, attempts, to assert some alleged prerogative as an imperial power, authorized to unilaterally determine the rules by which mankind must live.