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FOCUS: Beer popular with Uigur Muslim minority in China.

URUMQI, China, Aug. 14 Kyodo

This oasis town, which was once a thriving hub on the Silk Road, is brimming with colorful cultures and street shops selling handicrafts, as it buzzes with the sound of many languages.

The ''International Bazar'' in the capital of the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region is a huge three-story shopping mall. It was opened on Aug. 8 at price tag of 450 million yuan (6.5 billion yen) by a Hong Kong-based investment firm and a local private firm.

Carrefour of France, the biggest supermarket chain in Europe, will open a shop in the mall at the end of this year.

The complex has an observation tower for sightseeing, a mosque and a restaurant with seats for 1,000 guests. It has an annual sales target of 10 billion yuan and expects 10 million visitors from both China and overseas.

Mahirjan, a 35-year-old Tajik, is one successful local private entrepreneur who succeeded in the border trade business that has been booming since 1990s.

''I have assets worth about $200 million to $300 million, domestic and overseas,'' he said.

He was born into a nomad family in Pamir in the autonomous region and began his business, Pamir Frontier Trade Co., at age 18.

His company chalked up a net profit of 70 million yuan last year in the trade of precious stones, automobile parts, livestock products and construction materials with Central Asian countries.

The Tajik businessman joined the Chinese Communist Party in 2001.

Another successful businessman from an ethnic minority, with whom interviews were arranged by the autonomous region government, is Aikelam Aishaufu, a 44-year-old ethnic Uigur who is chairman of Xinjiang Hops Co., which sells popular the beer Xinjiang Hops.

He set up a real estate firm with 30 million yuan in capital in 1996 after working for the People's Bank of China and bought Xinjiang Hops, then a state-run company listed on the stock market.

His parents also were employees at the central bank. Xinjiang Hops has 11 affiliates and assets worth 2 billion yuan.

In the city of Yining, near the border with Kazakstan, several ethnic minority youths were spotted drinking the beer at a night stall.

Uigurs, who are predominately Muslim, and eight other ethnic minorities account for more than half the city's population. While drinking alcohol violates the tenets of Islam, many Uigurs could been seen spending their evenings at beer gardens and eating their favorite dishes like lamb kebabs.

According to the chairman of the beer company, Muslim ethnic minorities ''began drinking alcohol due to their long intercourse with the Han Chinese.''

Han Chinese account for about 41% of the population in the region due to massive immigration since 1949 when their share was only 7%. In Urumqi alone, Han Chinese make up about 73% of the city's population of 2.8 million.

''Xinjiang Hops plans to raise its annual output to 300,000 tons within a couple of years from current 110,000 tons,'' said the chairman of the beer company, who is also a Muslim.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Aug 18, 2003
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