RURAL WEALTH: Farmers enjoyed a bumper harvest of corn in Yili, Xinjiang (ZHANG XIUKE)
While China's coastal provinces basked in the glow of an economic boom following the reform and opening-up policy in 1978, far-west inland Xinjiang was largely left out of the prosperity. But now the region has been lent a helping hand to catch up.
The Central Government recently unveiled a 10-year partner assistance program to power up the growth engine of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The program is part of the Central Government's vigorous efforts to foster economic prosperity and social stability in the remote and sparsely populated region.
More specifically, 19 relatively affluent regions including coastal and central provinces and big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, will pipe support into different areas of Xinjiang during the next 10 years. In addition to financial aid, efforts will also be made to improve employment, education and housing conditions for the poor in the region.
Except for Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, and Karamay, a relatively developed city, the rest of Xinjiang will receive aid. Northeast China's Liaoning Province, for instance, will focus on assistance to Tacheng in northwest Xinjiang while Hunan Province will funnel its aid to central Turpan.
The economy of Xinjiang has been gathering steam in past years, but the growth relies heavily on its rich natural resources. Adding to the economic vulnerability are weak infrastructure, acute poverty in southern areas and adverse weather conditions.
Xinjiang still faces daunting challenges in capital, technology, management expertise, as well as social welfare and education, said Wei Houkai, Deputy Director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
It would be very difficult for the region to quickly bridge the gap without help from the Central Government and fellow provinces and cities, said Wei.
But this is not the first time that other areas have extended a helping hand to Xinjiang. China has been running a similar partner program since 1997, but this time it is expected to be more effective and more instrumental in steering Xinjiang on the fast track to development.
This is the first time the government has clearly set quantified targets for assistance, said Jurat Imin, Deputy Secretary of the Hotan Prefecture Committee of the Communist Party of China, in an interview with China Daily. Hotan will be grouped with Anhui Province, as well as Beijing and Tianjin municipalities.
There are reports that all 19 regions are required to contribute 0.3-0.6 percent of their annual fiscal revenues from 2011 to 2020 to support Xinjiang's development. The total economic aid in 2011 is expected to reach 10 billion yuan ($1.46 billion), nearly 26 percent of the fiscal revenue of Xinjiang in 2009.