A visitor takes a photo of the China-Kazakhstan Horgos Frontier International Cooperation Center on April 23. Photo: Wang Cong/GT
In the remote city of Horgos in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a China-Kazakhstan cross-border free trade zone has become the highlight of the city's economic development and its efforts to support the country's "One Belt, One Road" initiative, local officials said in recent interviews with the Global Times.
The China-Kazakhstan Horgos Frontier International Cooperation Center, a unique free trade zone that spans the border, has yielded great initial results, fueling enhanced exchanges of goods and people and lifting the local economy, the officials added.
"Within just a few years of operation, the Cooperation Center has achieved great results," Guo Jianbin, deputy director of the Management Committee of the Horgos Economic Development Zone, told the Global Times on April 24, pointing to the number of visitors from China and Kazakhstan that the center has attracted.
Since the center went into operation in 2013, there have been more than 10 million visitors, Guo said.
The number increased dramatically each year from a mere 320,000 in 2013 to 5 million in 2016, he said, noting that momentum remains strong this year, as the number already reached 1 million in the first quarter of the year.
Most of those visitors were attracted by duty-free stores and convenient cross-border passage that does not require a visa. Visitors are only required to secure a day pass on either side of the border, and they can buy duty-free goods worth up to 8,000 yuan (,160) for Chinese citizens and 1,500 euros (,638) for Kazakh citizens each time.
Taking advantage of these preferential policies, on a recent Sunday afternoon, shoppers from both sides arrived in large groups to purchase everything from clothes to cosmetics to tires.
"It's much cheaper here and it's very close to where I live," said a Kazakh girl, who declined to provide her name, on April 30.
"I just came here for this," she said, taking an iPhone out of her purse, before jumping onto a bus.
The zone also has hotels, storage facilities, banks and other services. As of April 24, the center had attracted 4,000 companies, with daily sales passing 5 million yuan, according to a press statement from the city government.
The center is far from being completed, despite an investment of 1.18 billion yuan in infrastructure and 6 billion yuan in business projects, the statement said, adding that 18 large projects with a total estimated investment of 20 billion yuan are under construction.
That's on the Chinese side of the zone.
The "Kazakh side has also stepped up action there as well, after seeing the success here," Guo said, pointing to the Kazakh government's plan to develop a special zone near the border.
The center will cover 5.28 square kilometers, with 1.85 square kilometers inside Kazakhstan and the rest in China, according to Guo.
A supporting area for the zone is also under construction in Horgos, with at least 19 companies in export processing and other fields having moved in, Guo said.
"All of these developments are great for the economy in Horgos and our job market," he said.
The center and other facilities built by the local government helped Horgos' foreign trade grow 19 percent year-on-year to 67 billion yuan in 2016, according to data from the business promotion bureau in Horgos.
More than the local economy, the experience of the cooperation center has far broader national significance as the country pursues the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, Xu Xinming, director of the business promotion bureau in Horgos, told the Global Times on April 24.
Horgos, also known as Khorgos, was once a small station on the ancient Silk Road, but has become a crucial place in the country's Belt and Road imitative.