It is not at all easy to find Zhang Qingli in his office! The commander of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) spends most of his time in the frontier of production. I am really lucky to catch him in the office today, right after he came back from the areas affected by the Bachu earthquake.
Zhang told me that after the earthquake, the XPCC immediately sent emergency militia members to Bachu and Jiashi Counties in the Kashi region to help local residents. They gave priority to local residents before turning to Corps members and cadres. Currently, they have achieved great success in local earthquake relief and have started to rebuild homes. “No matter when and where, we will always serve our people of all ethnicities in Xinjiang wholeheartedly. This basic principle should not change,” Zhang said. Therefore, my interview begins at the positioning of the Corps in the new era.
XPCC, an irreplaceable force to the stability and development of Xinjiang
Reporter: The Corps was established just after the founding of New China – a very special period of time. How should it position itself at a time when the country is in full swing to build a society that is well off? Should we strengthen or weaken the force of the Corps?
Zhang: Our political commissar, Chen Demin, has been working in Xinjiang since he graduated from Nankai University. For over 30 years, he has seen tremendous change take place here. He made a few profound statements: “The Corps is an irreplaceable force for the stability and development of Xinjiang. In the new era, we should strengthen the forces of the Corps rather than weaken it. This is the demand of the new era.”
The decision to set up the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is a major initiative of the Party to defend the border and promote the development of the country. It reflects the vision of three generations of leadership.
Located in northwest China, Xinjiang accounts for 1/6 of the land in China. With more than 5,700 kilometers of land bordering eight countries, Xinjiang is of strategic importance. Xinjiang is abundant with resources. Since the Western Han Dynasty, rulers in different dynasties have attached great importance to opening up lands and defending the border, so as to safeguard the territory of the motherland. For various reasons, including the corruption of officials in successive dynasties, most of them failed to carry out their career long-term. The Communist Party of China is the only government that has, by summing up the lessons of history and taking into consideration the actual situation of China, set up a Corps and found a feasible way to maintain the stability and security of the country; and has done so through giving equal attention to military and agricultural sectors.
Experience has shown that strengthening efforts to open up land and defend the borders in Xinjiang is conducive to securing the border, the long-term stability of the western region; and the prosperous socioeconomic development of Xinjiang and the entire country. To some extent, the Corps has become a pillar of life that will never fall in the region.
Reporter: What did the Corps do to maintain the stability and development of Xinjiang?
Zhang: Xinjiang’s development is closely related to the efforts of all ethnic minority peoples and generations of Corps members. In the past, the environment was very harsh. However, in the best interests of the motherland, Corps members have dedicated the best of their lives to the country - even the best of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.
Before its liberation, industrial development was very backward in Xinjiang. The Corps became the founding father of modern industry in this region. Corps members saved the little bit they had to build modern industry (saving “a cap, a pocket, and a set of clothes”) in the region. With their own hands, they built water conservation facilities; planted trees; constructed roads and bridges; and set up large-scale modern, mechanized agriculture. The Corps also modernized the architectural industry, transportation, and trade circulation; and established a group of towns including Shihezi, Kuitun, Wujiaqu and Beitun. As a result, the Corps set a successful example for “central regions supporting local regions; local regions supporting the border; and people of all ethnicities supporting one another.” Meanwhile, the Corps also played an unmistakable role in maintaining social stability and security along the border.
No matter where and when, the Corps will always adhere to its mission of opening up uncultivated land and defending the border; maintaining stability in border areas; strengthening national unity; and promoting economic development. What we should change are mechanisms and systems that are not suited for a market economy.
Reporter: During this new period, what should the Corps do so as to advance with the times? What are the things that should be changed and what should not?
Zhang: We should always keep in mind our mission to maintain stability in border areas, strengthen national unity, and promote economic development of the region. However, we should have the courage to change the system and mechanism that does not fit the market economy.
To better fulfill the mission, we should also continually enhance the economic and social development of Xinjiang; and keep on improving our capacity to help local residents of all ethnicities.
Only by accelerated growth and improved strength can the Corps provide a powerful material basis for opening up uncultivated land and defending the border, as well as create material and spiritual wealth for the vast majority of workers.
Reporter: How can the Corps play a greater role in this new era?
Zhang: Over the past 50 years, people have been making great efforts to promote local development and have achieved world-renowned achievements. The Corps, however; only focused on Xinjiang and was mainly engaged in agricultural development. Today, the country has initiated a program of developing west China. It is a totally different approach, both in terms of breadth and depth; as well as a rare historical opportunity for both the Corps and the Xinjiang region. Therefore, we propose our goal to be “developing and expanding the Corps, making a fortune for farm workers.” Our strategy is to: “optimize structure; establish export-oriented trade; invigorate the Corps with science and education; and strive for sustainable development.” Our guidelines are: “deepening reform, expanding opening-up, making an overall plan, highlighting key issues, and focusing on results.” The Corps has been “complying with the overall situation; participating in the construction of three major industries; choosing four breakthroughs; and concentrating on the construction of one big reclamation area.”
The four breakthroughs are: 1) water-saving agricultural projects; 2) the “golden border” project to boost western China; 3) the “white, green and red project” to develop three industries: cotton, wool and textiles (white), organic fruits (green), and tomato and red wine (red); and 4) the construction of small towns.
Only by accelerating the development of the Corps and improving comprehensive strength can the Corps provide a powerful material basis to meet the material and spiritual demands of workers. The Fifth party congress of the Corps came up with a blueprint. By the end of the 10th Five-year plan period, the XPCC’s GDP will reach 27 billion yuan, with an average annual growth of 9%; the GDP per capita will exceed 10,000 yuan; the average annual income per capita will hit 9,000 yuan; the level of urbanization will reach 35%; and the natural population growth rate will be kept at a level of 9.5%. By 2010, the Corps’ GDP is expected to double from the year 2000 – equal to the total economic output of an additional Corps.