My first trip to China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was in 2004. I have visited Urumqi, Turpan and Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in northern Xinjiang and have been impressed by the development of Urumqi, the network of “Karez canals” o underground irrigation canals. in Turpan, and the natural beauty of Ili. In my dozens of trips to Xinjiang, I have visited many places, including Kashgar, Hotan, Aksu, Altay, Shihezi, and Karamay.
From July 4 to 9, I led a delegation of Chinese foreign trade representatives to Xinjiang. The tour was organized by the Center for Foreign Economic Cooperation of the International Relations Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
During this trip we visit Urumqi, Turpan and Ili. In Ili, we stayed in the same hotel that hosted us in 2004. The hotel was the same but the building was new. The former Soviet Union consulate building was converted into a hotel after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, although the old building was demolished two years ago and a new one was built in its place. However, the large garden and century-old trees were left untouched, and only the bust of Lenin was moved from inside the hotel and placed at the outside entrance.
What was a pleasant surprise is that both the head of the local party and the head of the Ili government are women. Competent, hard-working and stylish, they have made Ili a tourist attraction, with lavender fields at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains and the Accordion Museum, where people from five different ethnic groups perform live concerts.
As for Turpan, its most famous product is the grape, with Turpan resins being famous all over the world. The oldest records of grape cultivation in the region date back 2,000 years, and today Turpan accounts for about a fifth of China’s total grape production.
But tourism is so developed in the region that many vineyard owners earn more from tourism than from growing or processing grapes. In fact, the winery we visited in Turpan has a kilometer-long tunnel and also serves as a hotel with barrel-shaped rooms.
The most important tourist attraction in Turpan is, of course, the Turpan Karez System Museum. The Karez network of hundreds of underground canals is used to transport water from underground rivers and lakes to the city, which lies some 50 meters below sea level. According to records, the Karez water channeling system dates back 1,200 years.
From September 23 to 27, 2021, the Center for Foreign Economic Cooperation organized a tour for foreign trade representatives in China to Hotan and Aksu. Visiting Hotan after 10 years, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Dusty streets and one-story houses had been replaced by a clean and orderly city. But the stone buildings have been carefully preserved as cultural and architectural heritage and have become tourist attractions. In fact, poverty in southern Xinjiang was eradicated through the development of tourism and the revival of cooperative agriculture. Thanks to the efforts of the people and the indomitable spirit, Aksu and Hotan have become huge oases on the edge of a vast desert.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics has played a key role in lifting people out of abject poverty and bringing development and relative prosperity to the mountainous and arid region.
I became aware of the level of development in Xinjiang when I attended a Uygur wedding in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I was amazed at the feudal rules still practiced by the Uyghurs in Kazakhstan that give few or no rights to women and children.
But in China, thanks to socialism with Chinese characteristics, Uyghurs, including Uyghur women, can study the subjects of their choice, as well as master and develop their language, enrich their culture, and modernize themselves by learning about the progressive aspects of Islam. One of the strengths of socialism with Chinese characteristics is that it promotes the cultural mixing of 56 ethnic groups.
China regards diversity, both natural and social, as wealth. Only China can correctly assess the true value of 1.66 million square kilometers of deserts and mountains and treat them as wealth. But for that they have to be accessible. Therefore, China has built a vast network of highways and railways that cross deserts and tunnel through or circumnavigate mountains. It also has 22 airports in Xinjiang to facilitate intra- and inter-regional travel and boost tourism.
It is no wonder that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Xinjiang received more than 191 million tourists in 2021, 20.5% more than the previous year.
Due to the arduous efforts of the central and local government, Xinjiang is no longer threatened by terrorism. Instead, visitors see a prosperous and stable region. Diverse geographical features, rich ethnic cultures, and different and unique local cuisines have made tourism one of Xinjiang’s core industries. Also, the improved transportation network has made traveling in this vast region much easier. For example, you can have a traditional Kazakh breakfast on the Narat grasslands in Ili in the morning and have afternoon tea at the centuries-old tea house in Kashgar’s old town.
Visit Xinjiang to see the fascinating region with your own eyes and realize what kind of magic socialism is for development.
The author is deputy director of the International Relations Office of the Vatan Party (Turkey) and a visiting researcher at the Silk Road Research Center of Shihezi University.
Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.