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KUALA LUMPUR: China, which has a large Muslim population, is seeking to become an observer member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest international organisation outside of the United Nations.
Its Vice Foreign Minister, Zhai Jun, who expressed this interest to OIC secretary-general Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu during his second visit to China on Wednesday, said he hoped that the membership request would be considered at the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Djibouti in November.
According to an OIC statement, at the meeting between Zhai and Ihsanoglu, the Zhai noted that Islamic countries were among the most important global trading partners in China.
"The volume of trade exchange between the two sides reached half a trillion dollars (RM1.59 trillion) in 2011, ranking second after the European Union," the statement quoted Zhai as saying.
In this regard, he said that China was keen to boost its economic and cultural ties with Islamic countries.
Zhai pointed out that China "enjoys high confidence by the OIC member states, in particular for its support for the crucial issues in the Middle East and the rights of the countries in international forums".
Ihsanoglu, who first visited China two years ago, informed Zhai of the organisation's interest in developing joint programmes with the Chinese government, similar to those the OIC has with the US, such as in the field of maternal and child health care.
He also urged China to pay more attention to the cultural character of the historic city of Kashgar, located in western China, known for its history, heritage and Islamic culture.
In response, Zhai emphasised his country's desire to develop this region, noting that China was keen to preserve places of worships in the city and its cultural character.
During his visit, Ihsanoglu also met with a number of Chinese officials and officiated at the 1st OIC Congress on China and the Muslim World on Wednesday. The theme of the congress is "Cultural Encounters." The congress ends on June 30.
The OIC comprises 57 member states with a collective population of over 1.5 billion. Countries with large Muslim populations which sit as observer states include Thailand and Russia. -- BERNAMA