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Xinjiang

Xinjiang is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. It is a large, sparsely populated area which takes up about one sixth of the country's territory. Xinjiang borders three provinces of China including the Tibet Autonomous Region to the south and Qinghai and Gansu provinces to the southeast. In addition, it borders eight separate countries: Mongolia to the east, Russia to the north, and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to the west. It administers most of Aksai Chin under the authority of the People's Republic of China, although the region is claimed by India as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Xinjiang's central position in the region, and the active presence of Islamic faithful, make the province a pivotal region for peace and prosperity in the area.

"Xinjiang" or "Ice Jecen" in Manchu, literally means "New Frontier," a name given during the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China. It is home to a number of Turkic ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Uyghurs. The region is often referred to as Chinese Turkestan or East Turkestan, due to its ethnic links to Central Asia and specifically Turkestan. This strong linkage, combined with the high population of Uyghurs in the region has also led to a push for an independent Xinjiang, sometimes referred to as Uyghuristan by Uyghur activists.

Geography and geology

Mount Kongur in Karakul lake, close to Karakoram Highway in Xinjiang province (China).

The geographic position of Xinjiang makes it a very important location strategically. In history, Xinjiang served as the key controlling section of the well-known Silk Road, while it is now a crucial segment of the railway leading to the second Eurasia Continental Bridge.กก

Xinjiang is the largest political subdivision of China, with an area of 1.66 million km². It accounts for more than one-sixth of China's total territory and a quarter of its total boundary length. It is divided into two parts by Mount Tianshan with the parts traditionally being referred to as North Xinjiang (north of the Tianshan mountains), and South Xinjiang (south of the Tianshan mountains). Dzungarian Basin lies to the north, and Tarim Basin lies to the south within this divide. In the center part of Tarim Basin stretches the Taklimakan Desert, the largest mobile desert in China and the second largest in the world. Xinjiang's lowest point is the Turfan Depression, which is 155 meters below sea level and also serves as the lowest point in all of China. Its highest peak, K2, stands on the border of Xinjiang and Kashmir, and at 8,611 meters above sea level, is the second highest mountain on earth.

Most of Xinjiang is young geologically, having been formed from the collision of the Indian plate with the Eurasian plate, forming the Tian Shan, Kunlun Shan, and Pamir mountain ranges. Consequently, Xinjiang is a major earthquake zone. Older geological formations occur principally in the far north, where the Junggar Block is geologically part of Kazakhstan, and in the east, which is part of the North China Craton.

The Eurasian pole of inaccessibility, the point on land farthest from any ocean, is located approximately 320 km (200 miles) from the city of Urumqi, within the boundary of Xinjiang. It is located at Lat. 46 degrees 16.8 minutes N, Long. 86 degrees 40.2 minutes E, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert, which is 1,645 miles (2648 km) from the nearest coastline (in straight-line distance).

The Tian Shan (Tengri Tagh in Uyghur meaning mountains of the spirits) mountain range marks the Xinjiang-Kyrgyzstan border at the Torugart Pass (3752 m). The famous Karakorum highway (KKH) known as the "highway in the clouds" links Islamabad, Pakistan with Kashgar over the Khunjerab Pass. to the Chinese, it is referred to as "Friendship Highway."

Water resources are rich in Xinjiang. There are over 570 big and small rivers, and the amount of water per capita is higher than the national average. Xinjiang is also extremely rich in biological resources, with about 3,000 types of higher plants, making up ten percent of the total in China.

Economy

A panoramic view of Urumqi's city center taken from Red Mountain (Hong Shan).

Xinjiang is known for its fruits and produce, including grapes, melons, pears, cotton, wheat, silk, and walnuts. In addition, it has large deposits of gold, chromium, copper, nickel, rare metals, salts, and nonmetals for building. Xinjiang also has deposits of coal and oil, making it both an economically and strategically significant area for the People's Republic of China.

The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) is an important part of Xinjiang's economy, with 174 regimental agricultural and stockbreeding farms operating under it.

Xinjiang's nominal GDP was approximately 187 billion RMB (about 23 billion USD) in 2003, and increased to 220 billion RMB (about 28 billion USD) in 2004, due to the China Western Development policy introduced by the State Council to boost economic development in Western China. Its per capita GDP for 2003 was 9,710 RMB (1172 USD).

Oil and gas extraction in the prefectures of Aksu and Karamay is booming, especially with the West-East Gas Pipeline connecting all the way to Shanghai on China's eastern coast. Along with this oil and gas boom, the predicted reserve of coal in Xinjiang is 2.19 trillion tons, accounting for 40 percent of the total of the entire country. This abundance of resources makes the province an incredibly important source of energy for China.

Xinjiang's exports amounted to 3.047 billion USD, while imports turned out to be 2.589 billion USD in 2004. Most of the overall import/export volume in Xinjiang was directed to and from Kazakhstan through Ala Pass. China's first border free trade zone (Horgos Free Trade Zone) was located at the Xinjiang-Kazakhstan border city of Horgos. Horgos is the largest land port in China's western region and has easy access to the Central Asian market. In March 2006, Xinjiang will also open its second border trade market to Kazakhstan, which will be called the Jeminay Border Trade Zone.

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