China is planning to put its cheap labour force to work in a new 70,000-strong factory town across the border in Kazakhstan, in a move which will heighten fears of a land grab in the Central Asian country.
The factories will be built on a 6,000 hectare Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which Kazakhstan plans to launch next year as part of its £1.6bn land port and trade centre at Khorgos, a border town 220 miles north-east of Almaty, the Kazakh commercial capital.
"A Chinese factory from Urumqi will be able to build a factory on the Special Economic Zone," said Askhat Mukhamediev, director of the Khorgos centre. "Goods which come from China before will be brought into the SEZ in the form of raw materials. It will be produced in the SEZ, and exported under the brand 'Made in Kazakhstan'. The use of Chinese manpower will be permitted."
Next month, Kazakhstan's parliament is expected to pass a new law on SEZs, which will detail the legal status of this foreign labour, making it easier to bring in workers.
"These are strategically-planned steps for expansion from the Chinese side," said Murat Auezov, a former Kazakh ambassador to Beijing, who has long warned of Chinese designs on Kazakhstan's territories.
"They will use the production of these goods as a narcotic, because Kazakhstan will want to continue production, and will increase it with the use of Chinese labour. The next step will be expansion of SEZ, and then Kazakhstan will need to provide additional territories."
In January, Mr Auezov played a key role in protests against a Chinese proposal to lease 1m hectares of Kazakh land for farming, which forced the Kazakh government to back down.
Mr Mukhamediev said the use of Chinese manufacturing expertise and labour would help fulfil Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev's plan to diversify his country's exports beyond raw materials.