China approves $6bn expansion of airport in Urumqi, Xinjiang

China’s powerful central planning body yesterday approved a $6bn expansion of the international airport at Urumqi, capital of the western autonomous region of Xinjiang, where China denies allegations of human rights abuses against ethnic Muslims.

Building work will run through until 2030, by which time the expanded airport and two extra runways will accommodate 63 million passengers and 750,000 tonnes of cargo a year, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a statement, reports Reuters.

As a testament to the strategic importance of the Urumqi airport, Reuters notes that the investment value is more than half what Beijing is spending on its new mega-airport project, Daxing International, which will serve 72 million passengers a year by 2025.

Rich in oil and minerals, Xinjiang is considered an important node in China’s global Belt and Road Initiative, which envisages multi-modal transport links out to China’s Asian neighbours and beyond.

China has come under increasing international scrutiny over alleged abuse of ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang.

Authorities are accused of forcing Muslims into mass detention centres, but Beijing claims they are "training centres", and told the UN earlier this month that criticisms were "politically driven". 

Image: Terminal 3 of Urumqi’s existing international airport, in 2014 (GuoYilin/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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