Urumqi new trade capital for the west
Monday, March 13, 2006
Above the shouts of Afghan and Pakistani traders, a voice booms in heavily accented Putonghua in the airport in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
"You've got 20,000 meters of cloth?" a bearded trader thunders into a phone. "Great, but don't bother waking the boss. I'll call when I land."
Merchants from Lahore, Karachi and Kabul are struggling to get their purchases aboard a flight to Islamabad.
Businessmen in skull caps and traditional shalwar kameez outfits heave massive bundles to the check-in counter. Off to one side, their partners guard stacks of radio-controlled planes, talking dolls and stuffed animals.
Regional traders are flocking to Urumqi, now a city of four million people. They are part of a revival of a modern-day Silk Road powered by mobile phones and air travel.
Pakistan's trade with China grew 26 percent to a record US$3 billion (HK$23.4 billion) in 2004. It is projected to grow by another US$2 billion for 2005.
Sino-Indian trade has soared in recent years, from a mere US$1 billion in 1991 to US$13.6 billion last year.
The growth can be traced in part to Beijing's drive to lift incomes in the west. Xinjiang has seen its economy boom over the past half-decade: its total trade more than tripled between 2000 and 2004 to US$6 billion.
Trade is conducted in languages including English, the region's native Uygur and, increasingly, Putonghua.
Urumqi now boasts 50-story office blocks, gaudy stores and nightclubs. For sheer glitz and opportunity, there isn't a metropolis to rival it within 2,000 kilometers.
Traders say there's still plenty of room for growth, particularly if free- trade zones are set up.
Yet, like many watching the country's explosive growth, China-based shoe manufacturer Kasheef Gulzar worries that its massive exports will overwhelm businesses such as Pakistan's once-vaunted leather industry.
"It's hard to match their design and quality. They're becoming a kind of center of gravity for regional trade."
Dalian, a prosperous clean port city in Northeastern China. Population, about 3 million. The former mayor Bo Xilai, who governed Dalian from the late 90's to only a couple years ago when he was promoted to being Liaoning Governor and then I think he is now commerce secretary, well, he's largely responsible for Dalian's new revolution. Dalian was formerly an industrial center that was in decline, but Bo had the vision to use sparse city funds to rejuvenate the city's ecosystem and improve the city's sanitation, infrastructure, and greenery instead of simply investing in more industries. He was criticized severely by many other officials, but his strategy paid off handsomely. Now, Dalian citizens are amongst the proudest amongst China and have a strong sense of civic pride and duty, and the beauty of the city has translated to an investment boom. Bo Xilai, who is the son of a famous revolutionary fighter, is one of the most competent and charismatic politicians in China. Many suggest he is due to succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as amongst a member in the next top central leadership.