A grandiose project is rising in a sleepy corner of Central Asia, where southeastern Kazakhstan meets northwestern China. Officials in Astana hope the multi-billion dollar initiative can transform a patch of desert into an engine of growth.
The Kazakhstani side of this border area – called Korgas in Kazakh, Khorgos in Russian and Huoerguosi by the Chinese – is already abuzz with activity. The plan calls for establishing a free trade zone straddling both sides of the border, attracting not just traders but also high-end tourists eager to shop in what is slated to become a set of luxury outlet malls. Underscoring its vast scope, the Khorgos International Center of Boundary Cooperation is not scheduled to open until 2018.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.