China Sugar Restrictions in Xinjiang Hit Uyghur Bakeries Hard

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bakery-bread.jpg A Uyghur vendor sells various local bread near the Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, in China's Xinjiang region, in file photo.

Government restrictions on buying daily necessities are getting more severe for Uyghur people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) an anonymous source told RFA’s Uyghur service.

The source, a Uyghur woman who left the country last year and is living abroad, contacted RFA to reveal a new rule in place that restricts the purchase of sugar. Coming into effect in 2017, the rule has forced the woman’s family to close down their bakery, which they had been running for 10 years.

“My sister started the bakery in 2008 and it had been doing good business, enough to support the whole family,” the source said. “One day my sister left a message on WhatsApp, saying that the authorities were rationing sugar. She said we had to close down the shop because in order to buy over our allotted amount, we would have to go to apply for police approval.”

The source also said that in order to buy sugar, customers must show their ID and an approval letter stamped by the police. These letters can be hard to come by for anyone who has family members sent into political re-education camps under a campaign launched in early 2017 or who otherwise had a black mark against their name, she said.

In late 2016, authorities in the region issued a decree to all the grocery stores and supermarkets requiring that they verify that customers wishing to buy sugar have the right permissions in order. According to social media comments, the official government line was that sugar could be used for nefarious purposes, like making explosives.

To confirm the claim that these rules are in effect, RFA reporters called some wholesale and retail shops in Urumqi. One Han Chinese shop owner confirmed that he sold white sugar in his shop.

When asked if it is required to produce police approval to buy sugar, he replied, “Yes, ID and a permission letter is a must. All the sugar we sell is packaged in small bags, a few hundred grams in each packet. Prices range from 5-6 yuan or 7-8 yuan (U.S. $0.72 – 1.16).  I have never seen anyone selling several kilograms at once. Unless they have special permission, sugar is sold only in small packets.”

The shopkeeper did not understand why these restrictions were in place. “Sugar is a daily necessity, [the restrictions] cause so much inconvenience even for Chinese, as we use sugar in our cooking as well,” he said.

Bakeries are among the businesses most hurt by sugar regulations. According to several websites there are over 1,500 bakeries scattered across the XUAR, most of which are in Urumqi. Many of these bakeries are listed as closed on internet directories. RFA was able to contact a Han Chinese-owned bakery called Western Cake Shop.

When asked about the restrictions on buying sugar, the owner said “You can find sugar everywhere, I have never experienced such a problem.”

Uyghurs believe that, like many restrictions imposed by XUAR authorities, the sugar restrictions are not always being applied uniformly to all ethnic groups, and that Uyghur-owned bakeries are suffering as a result.

RFA attempted to contact the Tengri Tagh police station in Urumqi for comments on the sugar restrictions, but the officer who answered the phone refused to answer any questions.

Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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