Arabs have been visiting Guangzhou to trade since the sixth century, but their growing presence in the city has unnerved authorities as the nation becomes increasingly edgy about the rise of terrorism in the region. A diplomatic source said city authorities were concerned about the expanding population of people from the Middle East, following a huge influx in the past year. 'They are closely monitoring the situation and have stepped up security patrols,' he said. Police and city officials swarm Guangta Road on Fridays to observe Muslims worshipping at the bigger of the city's two mosques. Experts say China is an unlikely target of terrorist attacks. However, a bomb blast near a railway station last month, which went unreported, has put the city's security forces on a more vigilant watch. There are no details available about the blast, such as whether anyone has been arrested or whether there was a claim of responsibility. Any serious attack in China, which backed the US-led war on terrorism but not the invasion of Iraq, would inevitably unleash a backlash against local Muslims, said Dru Gladney, a University of Hawaii professor who has spent years studying China's Muslim population. Dr Gladney also said that it would be difficult for Islamic terrorists to hatch a plot in Guangzhou without support from Chinese Muslims, most of whom are Huis - descendants of earlier Muslim traders - who are not thought to support terrorism. Nevertheless, he warned of the need to be vigilant. 'It's always prudent to be aware of the global movement of Muslims. There is no place in the world where incidents cannot happen,' he said. Alladin Hassan, a Guangzhou-based Jordanian businessman of Palestinian origin, shares those concerns. 'We are afraid some crazy people will make problems here because they will affect us before they affect Chinese people,' he said. 'Then there will be no place for us in the world. 'We need the Chinese government to understand that not all Muslims are terrorists, not even 1 per cent of them.' Both Mr Hassan, who came to Guangzhou nine years ago as an interpreter, and his younger brother, Mohammed, who joined him four years ago, say mainlanders have a distorted view of Arabs and Muslims. For instance, it takes Arabs three times as long as other foreigners to get through immigration checks, Mr Hassan claimed, citing his brother's experience of being delayed at Lowu for hours last month. 'This affects my business,' Mr Hassan said. 'My business has fallen 30 per cent. Before, it was growing. 'The Chinese government has every right to be vigilant but it should have a record of businessmen who come here regularly and issue them with visas if they can prove who they are.' Despite the difficulties, the number of Arabs, of whom the biggest groups are Yemenis and Palestinians, has swelled so much in the past year that Fuli Business Centre on Zhongshan Road No8, near several wholesale markets, has become known as the 'Arabic Centre'. The demand for halal food has grown so much that Ma Jinping, a Hui, has opened a second shop opposite the main mosque, while Xinjiang eateries have also mushroomed, joined by new establishments such as Dendash, an Egyptian restaurant, and the latest addition, the Ottoman Turkish Restaurant. 'The economy in the Middle East is so bad that Arabs come looking for opportunities,' Mr Hassan said. Guangdong's exports to 17 Middle Eastern countries grew 44.6 per cent to US$3.29 billion last year, following the previous year's 34 per cent rise. 'You catch anyone in the street in the Middle East and you will find everything he wears, his underwear, his socks, are made in China,' Mr Hassan said. 'This phenomenon has been growing since four years ago.' While the potential for trade is huge, seasoned Arab businessmen find Guangzhou expensive and know that there are many hidden costs to doing business. 'People who come and go find China cheap but for those of us who live here, things are expensive,' said Mr Hassan. 'Transportation is expensive. Accommodation is cheap but the rate of exchange is going down and the value-added tax has made Chinese products more expensive.' He warned that rising costs and red tape would drive people to Thailand and Malaysia where it was easier to do business. 'Here you give them samples and you have to stay to supervise or else they will not deliver what you want,' he said, illustrating his point with the example of a batch of shirts he ordered which match the sample perfectly - right down to a cigarette burn hole. Fellow Palestinian Aimn Irshid, who moved to Guangzhou from Taiwan six years ago, complained about banking difficulties, saying he had to spend half of every day at the bank when he should be building his business. 'Rules change every day. I don't know if it is because there are more people coming here now,' he said. 'They don't make a distinction between people who have registered businesses here and those who are here for a month. There is nothing we can do except wait [for things to improve].'