In the past, Ningxia served as a bridge for exchanges between Chinese and Arabic cultures. Ningxia has been designated by the Chinese central government as a production base for Muslim food because of its local resources and large Muslim community.
China`s news agency Xinhua reported in 2011 that the Halal Food Certification Center in Ningxia signed agreements with its counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar to grant mutual recognition to their certifications. Previously, Ningxia had signed similar agreements with Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia.
Such mutual recognition is beneficial for Ningxia`s halal food exports and will thus help bolster the development of the industry, said Wang Shengqun, director of the Ningxia certification center.
Ningxia has developed a friendly trading relationship with over 120 countries and has established sister-city cooperation with 23 provinces around the world.
When receiving Indonesia`s journalists in Ningxia`s provincial capital city of Yinchuan on March 15, 2012, a Ningxia official expressed an interest in establishing sister-city cooperation between Yinchuan and an Indonesian city.
"On behalf of Ningxia`s foreign affairs office, we express our desire to establish sister-city cooperation with one of Indonesia`s cities," Zhang Yexing, vice director-general of Ningxia`s foreign affairs office, told the Indonesian media.
Yexing hoped that one day Yinchuan and its Indonesian sister city could mutually issue halal certificates and engage in bilateral food trade as well as export food to other countries.
"We want to look for a city that is complementary to Yinchuan. We want to establish cooperation with a city that has a lot of halal food in Indonesia," he said.
Yexing also invited Indonesia`s tourists to visit Ningxia, which is rich in tourist attractions including the ancient civilization of the Yellow River, Hui ethnic customs, part of the famous Great Wall of China and remnants of the Xixia dynasty.
Ningxia is one of China`s five autonomous regions and is inhabited by 6.3 million people, including some 2.3 million Hui Muslims or roughly 10 percent of China`s over 20 million Muslims.
Restaurants serving halal food are quite easy to find in Yinchuan. In addition to forging cooperation with halal food, Ningxia is also interested in establishing cooperation in Islamic education with Indonesia.
"We hope to have cooperation with the Indonesian Islamic Institute," Yusuf Suyang, rector of the Ningxia Islamic Institute, told the Indonesian journalists who were on tour in China from March 11 to 19, 2012, at the invitation of the Chinese government in conjunction with the state visit of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to Beijing from March 22 to 24, 2012.
The school has forged cooperation with student exchanges from Malaysia and Egypt, he confirmed. Ningxia has sent 40 students to Egypt under the student exchange program, but the school has not yet established cooperation with any Indonesian Islamic institutes.
"Ningxia is also called the Muslim Province in China," he said in Yinchuan on March 16, 2012.
The Ningxia Islamic Institute was established in 1985 and currently has over 400 students who study, among other things, the Arabic language, Al-Quran, Hadist, Islamic history, Hui history and Chinese history.
The school financed by the central and provincial governments also provides full scholarships to some 200 young people from various Chinese cities to prepare them for a vocation as mosque imams (leaders).
Ningxia has approximately 4,000 mosques and 12 Islamic schools. In China, there are about 10 Islamic institutes, including private ones, according to Suyang.
"Muslims` rights are recognized according to the Constitution of China. Although China is a non-Muslim nation, the rights of Muslims are respected and protected," Suyang stated.
China, which is ruled by the Communist Party, recognizes five major religions: Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, Taoism and Buddhism.
Many graduates of the Ningxia Islamic Institute have become leaders and hold important positions in the government.
The chairman of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region is a Muslim, as are the house speaker and the Yinchuan mayor.
Islam entered China in the mid-7th century via the Silk Road.(*)