A Los Angeles Rises in Western China

Article excerpt

Byline: Isaac Stone Fish

The dusty silk road oasis of Kashgar sits at the precipice of empire. China's western-most city, bordering the remotest parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, has long been poor: average income hovered at about $1,000 a year in 2008, low even for China's rural corners. Ethnic tension simmers. Geographically cut off by the fierce Taklimakan Desert, "Kashgar's not exactly at the center of things," says Willy Lam, a China analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Beijing is trying to change all that. It's notable that the flying time from the Chinese capital to Kashgar (nondirect flights began just last month) is the same as that between the East and West coasts of America: if the regime has its way, Kashgar will soon be China's Los Angeles--a regional economic hub that also manages a vibrant ethnic diversity.

Beijing is showering attention and resources on Kashgar. Last year the central government ponied up some $7.4 billion in subsidies for construction projects. It built a shiny new $25 million airline terminal. And in May the government classified the area as a Special Economic Zone, the first new one in more than 15 years. …