Beijing: China plans to make its troubled border provinces Xinjiang and Tibet major business hubs for seamless trading with Europe and South Asia as it moves ahead with the mega Silk Road project to boost its global influence.
The 13th Five-Year Plan approved this week at the National People’s Congress outlines China’s ambition to make Xinjiang an important gateway to the West, Tibet to South Asia, Yunnan Province to Southeast Asia, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as an international passage to the ASEAN—which include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.
Xinjiang, bordering Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) and several Central Asian states, has been on the boil for years over ethnic tension between Uyghur Muslims and majority Han settlers from mainland China.
The province in the last few years has also witnessed violent attacks allegedly carried out by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), prompting the Chinese government to deploy large number of troops to quell the turmoil.
Tibet too has witnessed tension over incidents of self-immolation, protests calling for the return of the Dalai Lama from India. Overseas Tibetan groups say over 130 incidents of self-immolations have taken place in the region.
While Xinjiang is expected to become the hub for both the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through the PaK and the Silk Road projects to connect with Europe, Tibet is likely to play a major role in connecting China to South Asia, including India via Nepal.
India has adopted a mixed approach to the Chinese initiatives. Though it has backed the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, India has so far stayed clear of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) owing to concerns over its strategic implications in the Indian Ocean.
India has also opposed the CPEC as it is being built through the disputed parts of the PaK.
Tian Yun, director of China Society of Macroeconomics – a research centre, told state-run Global Times that many places along the border are transportation junctions and could become platforms to promote “Made in China” to neighbouring nations.
The 13th Plan states that China will continue to promote Belt and Road Initiative by building the China-Mongolia- Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia, China-Indochina Peninsula, China-Pakistan and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridors, as well as the new Eurasian Land Bridge.
The plan listed Xinjiang as a key region for the Belt and Road initiative, the official name for the Silk Road.
Beside Xinjiang, Yunnan and Guangxi also play an important role in China’s cooperation with Southeast Asia countries, Tian said.