Located at the intersection of Central, South and East Asia, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is China’s largest administrative division but also one of its most sparsely populated. It is a region facing diverse challenges, but is also home to encouraging potential. Xinjiang is the ancestral home of the Uyghur ethnic group, one of China’s recognized minorities who primarily practice Islam and speak the Uyghur language. The region has been marked by civil unrest perpetrated by Uyghur separatists as well as increased security measures by the Chinese government in response. Regardless, there are high hopes for the future of Xinjiang’s social and economic development and for its promise as a gateway to new frontiers across the continent.
Development indicators including per capita income and access to state services are much lower in the region than the national average, and its geographic isolation and heightened security concerns have restricted progress. Growing economic inequality and the influx of migrant labor from China’s other provinces have also exacerbated sociocultural tensions. Despite this, positive growth rates in the region over the past decade, increased infrastructure investment, and better efforts by the central government to preserve Uyghur culture and guarantee rights offer potential avenues for sustainable progress. What is the role of balanced development in maintaining stability in Xinjiang, and what challenges remain? What opportunities will long-term stability open for the future of the region?
China is currently in the process of rolling out its extensive One Belt One Road (OBOR) development initiative, multiple sections of which will run through Xinjiang to connect the entire country to Turkey, Western Russia, Pakistan and beyond. In this way, Xinjiang has become something of a geographic lynchpin for economic connectivity across Eurasia, and thus demands increased attention from the international community. The entire OBOR initiative promises to have huge implications for China’s trade relationships and regional influence. How will OBOR’s infrastructure projects impact China’s position and development in the region? How can Xinjiang build connectivity both within and outside of China’s borders? How can OBOR benefit Xinjiang's economic development?