BEIJING - Chinese firms labeling home-made food items as halal products imported from Muslim countries to sell to the country's Uighur Muslims have sparked fury among Xinjiang Muslims who lost their faith in Chinese companies.
Our company was set up a long time ago and has grown to a large scale, or hundreds of thousands of US dollars, the director of Tianren International Ltd., surnamed Luo, told RFA Uighur Service on Friday, January 18.
We mainly produce halal foods for the whole Xinjiang region and net hundreds of thousands to several million yuan [annually].
Luo admitted that his company had been producing food products domestically and mislabeling them as certified halal goods from Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country.
An investigation of the address listed on a Tianren International product label for its office in Malaysia found a personal storage facility and not a food processing center.
Luo said that her company makes its food using halal ingredients, although she refused to provide details on how production was monitored.
We label our foods as a Malaysian brand and mark them halal, but most of the halal foods we send to Xinjiang are produced in our factory, she said.
We have a large market in Xinjiang, she said, referring to the region's 9 million mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs.
As the news spread to Uighur Muslims, angry reactions appeared on online forums denouncing the cheating Tianren company.
Commentators also vented anger at an importer named Albert Lim, referring to him and the company as dishonest traders that were retailing fake halal foods.
The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat filthy and unhealthy to eat.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
Losing faith in Chinese companies, Uighur Muslims prefer more expensive products imported from Malaysia and other Arabic countries.
Of course we are going to buy the ones made in Muslim countries, even if it is expensive, because it's more credible [as a halal product], a Uighur Muslim youth said.
We bought the Chinese-made drinks before too, but not much, he said.
When they began to be imported from Muslim countries we preferred to buy it more.
Aside from demanding more Muslim-led companies in the region be allowed to source goods from abroad, Uighurs have also called for tighter controls on halal products that are made in China.
But the Uighur community has very little power to exercise consumer rights in China, Charles Burton, a senior consultant on Chinese affairs to agencies of the Canadian government, said.
A lot of this has to do with bribery of food inspectors and corruption by the companies which are selling items that are not as they are described on the packaging, Burton said.
The issue is often overlooked, he said, because Han Chinese do not respect the religious rights of the Uighur Muslims, which is a byproduct of the Chinese government oppressing Uighur religious freedoms.
It is terrible for Muslims to buy food which they believe is halal, but actually is not, Burton said.
The sad thing is that Uighurs have very little power and lack the connections to exert influence on behalf of their group, he said.
There are no nongovernmental organizations to supervise this kind of issue.
Xinjiang and its Uighur Muslims, a Turkish-speaking minority of more than nine million, continue to be the subject of massive security crackdowns.
Muslims accuses the government of settling millions of ethnic Han in their territory with the ultimate goal of obliterating its identity and culture.
Beijing views the vast region as an invaluable asset because of its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves.