China yesterday opened the first stretch of a new high-speed railway in its western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, billed as a milestone in the central government’s efforts to promote economic development in the nation’s restive hinterlands and bind them closer to the rest of the country.
The 530km stretch between Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, and the city of Hami, also known as Kumul, is the first stage of the 1,775km-long Lanxin railway connecting Urumqi to Lanzhou, the capital of central western Gansu Province.
Xinhua news agency reported that the full length of the passenger railway is on schedule to open by the end of the year. Trains on the Urumqi-Hami leg could reach more than 200kph, halving the travel time between the two cities to three hours.
Xinjiang, a sprawling, resource-rich region that is home to China’s Muslim Uighur minority, has been beset by worsening ethnic violence in recent years, but remains a critical part of China’s economic strategy.
Over the past year, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has spelled out ambitious plans to open up China’s western regions, and build a “New Silk Road” network of intercontinental land routes and maritime lines that would connect the country to its Central and Southeast Asian neighbors.
He announced a US$40 billion fund to invest in infrastructure projects earlier this month.
China has also been pouring money into Xinjiang’s development in an effort to quell growing discontent among Uighurs, many of whom chafe at government restrictions on their cultural and religious practices, as well as their lack of economic opportunity.
The government, which has warned of a growing threat of “Islamist militants” in the region, said in June that it was confident of guaranteeing the high-speed railway’s security, despite a bomb attack at an Urumqi railway station in April that killed three people and wounded 79.
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