In a well-timed move to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world, China has announced the commissioning on November 13--- a few days before the Haj--- of the Mecca Metro constructed by its engineers in Saudi Arabia. The 18-km-long Metro, which has been described as the first dual track light railway in Saudi Arabia, connects Mecca with nine holy sites, including Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. The Metro, which is estimated to cost US $ 1.8 billion, is designed to carry 72,000 passengers per hour when it is fully operational by May 2011. It can now carry 50 per cent of this number. According to the "China Daily" of November 14," this is the first cooperation project between China and Saudi Arabia after the two countries signed an agreement in June 2008 to enhance cooperation on infrastructure construction. It is also the first light rail system built by Chinese companies in the Middle East."
2. The "China Daily" had earlier reported on November 1 as follows:
"A total of 11,200 Chinese Muslims have already left China on chartered flights for the annual pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, figures released by China's State Administration for Religious Affairs indicated.
"About 13,000 Chinese are expected to take part in this year's Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) on 41 chartered flights leaving from Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi, Yinchuan and Kunming cities, according to Yang Shuli, assistant president of China Islamic Institute.
"Imams, doctors and government officials are accompanying each group of pilgrims.
"The first plane took off from Zhongchuan Airport in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province, on October 18. The last plane is scheduled to leave on November 4.
"China has around 23 million Muslims in more than 20 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, according to official statistics." (14-11-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )