Social media war erupts over Chinese halal delivery service

The social media storm revealed a lack of understanding toward the Muslim faith

China’s ambitions to be a halal meat power have been questioned in a social media storm over the use of halal marketing by one of the country’s leading food delivery companies. 

Microblog platforms like Weixin and Weibo have seen a wave of criticism over a halal meat delivery service by Meituan Dianping, the leading Chinese meal delivery firm.

Meituan, meanwhile, has claimed that the photos circulated by some of China’s nationalistic social media of its halal-specific delivery and packaging relate solely to a Muslim-majority city, Linxia, in Gansu province. The service of halal and non-halal delivery was solely the initiative of a local delivery man, according to the firm.

China has sought to build up its halal sector in regions with large Muslim populations like Gansu, but the country’s Weixin (Wechat) microblog users are adamant that 22 million Muslims (representing 2% of China’s total population) shouldn’t get special treatment. According to one Weixin user, with the user name Kang Long: “Majority non-Muslim Chinese are angry about it on social media as they don’t think Muslims should get special treatment; this is discrimination.

Row reveals deep ambivalence

Others have claimed that the whole controversy was caused by Meituan seeking to grab a bigger share of the halal restaurant spend, by increasing the take-out trade. Halal meat has had an outsized market share in China, thanks to popular restaurant chains identifying themselves as halal. The beef noodle chain Malan, for example, has hundreds of outlets across China and prominently displays its halal insignia at the entrance to outlets.

Meituan Dianping is the world’s number one online and on-demand home delivery company, based on transaction volume, with the company claiming ten million orders daily.

However, as well as showing the power of social media in China, the row also indicates a strong consumer ambivalence and lack of understanding about halal and Muslims. It follows a similar social media incident last year, where non-Muslim passengers on a flight to the (majority-Muslim) Xinjiang region complained online over the absence of non-halal catering on board.

Government keen to promote halal

While many Chinese have become wary of Islamic terrorism, due to involvement by the Uyghur minority in western China in international jihad groups, there is much at stake also for China’s ambitions to be a trading hub and supplier to Asian Muslim nations like Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as central Asian states bordering western China.

Among the firms exporting halal product is Ningxia Pang Ha Ha Halal Lamb Export & Import Co, which is a trader and processor located in the Yinchuan Bonded Trade Zone. The city – which hosts an annual China-Arab States trade fair each September – has a Muslim Logistics Zone, which claims to be China’s distribution centre for halal meat distribution, as well as a hub for trade with the Arab world and a global halal market, which is worth US$3 trillion in scale.

A Yinchuan government statement on the upcoming fair (in September) explained: “It is government policy to promote Muslim entrepreneurship… major halal meat processing companies get subsidies like 10% for land purchases and 20% for technology purchases.

China is opening several avenues for its halal firms: under its ambitious strategy to revive the old Silk Road, China has promised almost US$60 billion in infrastructure spending to Pakistan, which will see the latter become a conduit for Chinese trade via roads out of western China to the Arabian Gulf port of Gwadar, which China runs.

Many of the Muslim states of south-east Asia and the subcontinent lack the processing scale and infrastructure of China, which has used scale and low costs to establish a foothold for numerous processed food items in the south-east Asian trade bloc ASEAN.

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