China has released new regulations for Muslims visiting Saudi Arabia for annual Haj stipulating that the pilgrimage should be organised only by the country's Islamic Association and pilgrims should follow Chinese laws and oppose religious extremism.
There are 20 million Muslims in China, mostly Uyghurs - an ethnic group of Turkic origin - and Hui Muslims, who are of Chinese ethnic origin. Both Uyghurs and Hui Muslims have a population of about 10 million each, according to an official white paper.
About 10,000 Chinese Muslims perform Haj every year.
The new regulation issued for Haj pilgrimage has a total of 42 articles, including one that stipulates that Chinese Muslims' pilgrimage should be organised in accordance with laws, and the Chinese Islamic Association is the only organisation that is authorised to arrange for Chinese Muslims to go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj.
No other organisation or individual should organise the trips, and Chinese citizens should meet basic requirements when applying for the Haj, the regulation, which would be implemented from December 1, stipulates, state-run Global Times reported.
People who go overseas to perform Haj should abide by China's and the destination country's laws and regulations, and oppose religious extremism, according to the regulations.
The related government departments are requested to fulfil their responsibilities and ban illegal Haj activities, the report said.
The Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam which every Muslim is required to complete at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy enough and have the means to do so.
China since last year faced severe international criticism, including from the UN and western countries, over allegations that it is holding over a million people, mostly ethnic Uyghurs, in internment camps in Muslim-majority Xinjiang province in a bid to wean them away from religious extremism.
Resource-rich Xinjiang province is home to over 10 million Turkic speaking Uighur Muslims. The province is restive for several years over settlements of Han Chinese in the region.
China defends the camps, describing the facilities as re-education centres aimed at de-radicalising sections of the Uyghur Muslim population from extremism and separatism.