Chinawest Phase 2: NatGas Extraction, Urban Technozone sprawl, Desertification Rollback , Water Shortage – Oi!

(Note to myself: for a short introd essay see
C:\Users\User\My JP documents\Website modules from dec 17 2010\Xinjiang development\Energy export water overusde and deserrtizayion in XiqiDonghshu.doc, p 125)

To review the terrain we have covered in our last several posts about the “West” as a major part of China’s imperial frontier building and about the stages traversed by PRC leaders in securing it:

1) The Westcountry “marchlands” – the analogy with medieval Europe is imperfect but still useful – are (or at least were before the 1950s) best and most simply defined by their vulnerability to Central Asian Muslim infiltration and occupation. Its three border-scraping provincial-scale units were so separated from the political and demographic centers (the Yellow River and Yangtze basins) that they were administered as ill-defined territories whose very names were in flux: Xinjiang (Huijiang), Qinghai (Xikang), and Inner Mongolia (Suiyuan and Rehol) were not yet on the map; from the late Qing and then during the Republic they were not so much governed as controlled by Islamic militarists who moved in and as circumstances dictated. Incorporation into the Sinitic coreland thus begins with off-and-on campaigns to colonize the area with military settlers, dispatched from the East. It was not until the 1950s when that kind of control finally stabilized, in and around the Xinjiang Construction and Development Corps (XCDC – check this) , which has its roots in the Yenan self-sufficiency program of the 1940s.

2) An inaugural phase of development centered on making the Xinjiang Territory self-sufficient in foodgrains (first wheat, then maize) to the point where a large Han civilian immigration program became diet-feasible and a modest nexus of towns and interlocking truck-use roadways could be put in place. Indigene Muslims (mainly Uighurs) were not included, and quickly approached demographic minority, though they found a place as tenants or subcontractors of the PLA-spunoff plantations (some 114 in all). Food security was more or less in place by the ’90s, but the cereals-first policy began to come apart with the paralysis or even retreat of wheat-growing in the face of higher-yield maize overplanting.

3) At some point in the early Deng Xiaoping years, the Corps began to steer toward market integration with “the East” via plantation-scale growing of cotton for longhaul overland rail shipment The effort was highly successful; less so a parallel effort with sugarbeet. But the program hit a ceiling in the late 2010s when the global slowdown undercut lint cotton import prices and made subsidized “Western” stocked and sold by the government cotton too expensive for China’s textile industry. By 2008 if not before, Xinjiang’s cotton boom was over. That crop’s role as a job-creator (if mainly for temporary harvest workers) was further undermined by frantic and perhaps overscaled mechanization of picking, which put 500-600,000 migrant workers – including Uighur women – out of supplementary income. The topping out (planned consolidation) of cotton production is however hoped to be compensated in local economic terms by downstream integration with/into cotton yarn production. As happened in the post-WWII US, relocation of mill capacity into proximity with the raw material production centers is anticipated as adding to regional value added where cotton itself is subtracting.

(4) Pretty clearly we are now well into a fourth phase of colonial/territorial development – based on low labor-cost (input) highly mechanized extractive mining (coal, oil, gas, and minerals) and almost zero internal growth feedback benefit, except perhaps for some reduction in the local price/availability of electric power for urban expansion. In an abstract sense, this reversion from surface cultivation to primary resource economics as the focal point of development planning is a step backward that threatens to further stall or even reverse agro-development by tightening the availability of surface land for further reclamation, and literally stealing water from (future) farming. From the point of view of Beijing, however, it promises still tighter integration of the Territory and its neighbors into the imperial/state nexus, since the delivered product (mainly natural gas) will have only minimal local use, and creates local income only as consumed via pipeline by electric power plants in central and east China. As extraction grows as a share of territorial value added, dependency on capital-intensive remote users will increase dramatically, handcuffing the “West” even more tightly.

But new risks to the system of control will also be added: resource depletion or interruption and environmental stresses (such as re-desertification), which will even as prospects drive “immigrant” settlers away. For a system that was built to muzzle the Islamic threat and prevent any resurgence, a demographic and stratum-reversal of colonial in-flows is not a happy prospect. Surprisingly, for an editorial environment where quantified growth is always cheerfully viewed, a forecast of this negative return hit the headlines as early as April 2003, just as the first blueprint for “Grand Western Development” became public.

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