News From : DagangHalal.com (15 Oct 2009)
NINGXIA PROVINCE: China’s vast interior and western provinces have often lagged behind their wealthier coastal and southern counterparts.
But one such province hopes to catch up economically, by forging closer trade ties with other Islamic countries.
Ningxia is one of China’s poorest provinces. Of its population of six million, 35 percent are Hui, all of whom are Muslims. Most are descendents of traders who introduced Islam to China more than 1,000 years ago.
For years, Ningxia was reluctant to tap on its Islamic connections. But that has now changed, as it seeks to build closer economic ties with Muslim countries.
Yuan Jinglin, director of Ningxia Development and Reform Commission, said: “Ningxia has obvious competitive advantages – greater economic activity and trade will help build closer ties with other Islamic nations, and it will also be mutually beneficial.”
By holding trade fairs, Ningxia hopes to establish itself as an international hub for halal food and Muslim commodities.
There are wool and cashmere products, traditional Islamic clothing and accessories. Even household items, like toothpaste and vases, are targeted at Muslim consumers. But it is the lucrative global Islamic food business that has attracted the most interest.
Hadijah Li Shuxiang, director of Fa Li De Islamic Food, said: “China’s export of halal foods is only 0.1 percent of the world total, so our goal is to make further headway into the global market. We are eyeing Islamic countries in the Middle East, and also Singapore and Malaysia.”
China’s large potential for growth and its growing affluence is not lost on foreign firms.
Mohammad Yasin imports traditional Pakistani sauces, spices, and even natural cosmetic products to China.
Mohammad Yasin, general manager of Midtrans Commodities, said: “China is becoming an import country for food products so these recent years we found a very big market in China. Ningxia is some sort of minority province so some of their customs, some of their traditions are very similar to us, so we’re finding a very good interest in this market.”
Despite its large Muslim community, Ningxia has been somewhat isolated from the other Muslim communities elsewhere. But recent attempts to build closer economic ties with other Islamic countries are clear attempts to tap on its natural advantage as well as to speed up its somewhat backward development.
Analysts say stronger economic ties with Islamic countries will forge a greater sense of international community among Muslims in the region. Some even argue that growing trade ties will allow Chinese Muslims to rediscover Islam.
China’s move to build on its Islamic connections could mean that it is no longer acceptable for interior provinces to remain economically backward, or that China has become fairly confident in its policies on religion and ethnic minorities.