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China considering nationwide law on halal food

National standard could quell Muslim anger, lead to greater food exports

China considering nationwide law on halal food

Two cooks prepare chicken at a halal restaurant in Jiayuguan in China's northwestern Gansu province in this AFP file photo. China is considering a national law to regulate halal food. (Photo by AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, Beijing
China

March 23, 2016

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China is considering a nationwide law to manage halal food, a divisive issue opposed by majority Han Chinese, which led to rioting by Muslims in two major cities last year.

Beijing had been studying whether to draft a halal law following a 13-year delay after the State Council ordered the legal provision back in 2002, the legal office of the council said in a report released March 22.

The legislation is "reasonable and necessary" as it relates to "national unity and social stability," said the Ethnic Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislative chamber.

China relies on a mix of regional halal standards to try to meet Islamic requirements, harming the country's prospects for exporting halal items while provoking anger among many of the country's more than 23 million Muslims.

Police arrested 11 Muslims after they smashed up a halal bakery when pork sausages and ham were discovered in a delivery van outside the shop in Xining last May. Authorities blamed the incident on a misunderstanding: a delivery van mixed halal with non-halal, not the bakery, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Later the same month, hundreds of Muslims led a rare street rally demanding the end of alcohol sales in halal restaurants in Xian, a major tourist city.

Authorities tried to play a balancing act in both cases amid Muslim anger and an outpouring of anti-Islamic feeling on social media by majority Han, who say atheist China should not pander to a religious minority — Muslims represent less than 2 percent of the population.

A halal law has also faced opposition from some Chinese intellectuals. Earlier this month, Xi Wuyi, an expert on Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote on her Weibo account that halal legislation "violates the principal of separation of state and religion."

Nationalistic state tabloid the Global Times said she later declined an interview because the issue is "too sensitive" in China.

Li Haiyang, a Muslim from Henan province near Beijing, has been among the most vocal backers of halal on Chinese social media, arguing the government's failure to legislate on the issue represents discrimination against Muslims.

It's a position shared by independence-minded Uighurs, a minority Muslim group the government last year accused of starting an extreme halal campaign to oppose Beijing's rule.

Alim Seytoff, head of the Uighur Human Rights Project in Washington D.C., said the government was overblowing a normal Muslim practice.

"The recent pro-halal trend came as a result of Chinese food producers labeling a lot of non-halal food as halal," he told ucanews.com. "What is halal is crystal clear for Uighurs while it means nothing for the Chinese."

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