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Old port reborn along Belt and Road

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-06-23 10:03

HORGOS, Xinjiang -- Despite Ramadan, saleswoman Guliman has seen many customers at the fur apparel store where she works in Horgos, a port bordering Kazakhstan in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The store has been short-staffed lately and is recruiting shopping guides who speak Kazakh or Russian.

"We have had more customers from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia recently. They like fur a lot," said the 28-year-old, who is from a nearby county and is ethnically Kazakh.

Guliman makes around 5,000 yuan (730 U.S. dollars) a month depending on her sales performance. It is much higher than she could make at her old job, sitting at an office at a local housing institution.

The marten coats, produced in northern China's Tianjin City, cost 8,000 to 10,000 yuan each at the store. Monthly sales revenue can reach 800,000 yuan.

The store, Aliu International, is located at the China-Kazakhstan International Border Cooperation Center, the world's only duty-free shopping center spanning two countries, which opened in 2012.

People from both countries are welcome to shop at the 5.28-square-km center without a visa.

As a port, Horgos, which means "a place where caravans pass" in Mongolian, dates back more than 130 years.

While Horgos lost its shine as caravans faded into history, the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, has revitalized the old port.

Daily Crossings

On a June afternoon in a parking lot on the Chinese side, foreign buyers swarmed out of shopping buildings, loaded their purchases into cars and headed home across the border. Guldan, 46, was among them.

Guldan is from Zharkent, a town in Kazakhstan some 40 km away from Horgos. She visits the center every day, along with her two siblings, and their driver, buying children's goods worth approximately 5,000 yuan each time.

At the center, each person is allowed to purchase up to 8,000 yuan in duty-free goods each day.

"My husband runs a baby store at home, so we come here every day to refill our stock. China-made products are very popular for both price and quality," said Guldan, while packing strollers, bicycles and beds for children into cars.

Seric, 34, also from Zharkent, sells small goods at a duty-free building at the center. Working at Horgos, he is able to go home every day. When he worked in the Kazakh capital Astana, 1,600 km away, he only returned home once a year.

"Although I'm in Horgos, I just feel like I'm working at home," he said. "My neighbors are jealous and often ask me when the companies here will offer more jobs."

According to the border control station in Horgos, more than 5 million Chinese and foreigners crossed the border last year via the Horgos cooperation center, accounting for 70 percent of total entries and exits in Xinjiang.

Cargo trains from the Chinese cities of Chongqing and Zhengzhou pass through the port on their way to Europe. Earlier this month, a new passenger train route was launched via Horgos, which reduces travel time by eight hours between Urumqi, Xinjiang's regional capital, and Almaty in Kazakhstan, compared to the old route via the Alataw Pass.

Wang Gang, Party chief of Horgos, said the number of service cashier windows at the industrial and commercial registration center has risen from five in 2014 to 20 now.

Thirty new businesses are registered every day on average in Horgos, which was inaugurated as a city in 2014. They are attracted by preferential policies, a simpler registration process and a five-year exemption on business taxes.

"These businesses will bring tens of thousands of jobs as well as consumption," he said.

The economy of the city expanded 40 percent to 2.68 billion yuan, and the revenue budget rocketed up 278 percent year on year to 1.32 billion yuan in 2016.

Boshihao Group, a Shenzhen-registered firm that develops and produces robots, smartphones and tablet computers, opened a factory in Horgos in May.

The factory will meet demand from the Russian and Central Asian markets, according to its general manager, Min Jianbo.

"A shorter delivery time to these countries and preferential tax policies are major reasons that we have chosen to locate our factory here," he said.

Saleswoman Guliman studied software engineering in Beijing after graduating from university in 2012. She is confident that her academic achievements will be put to use somehow in Horgos as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

"I'm sure I'll find a job here related to my major someday, maybe when the high-tech companies decide to localize their technical personnel," she said.

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