China's national carrier, Air China, is facing a storm of criticism after running a racist travel advisory in its in-flight magazine for passengers flying to London.
Chinese journalist Haze Fan noticed the offending passage in Wings of China and wrote about it in CNBC. In a lengthy feature, which allegedly covers almost a third of the magazine, the airline goes on to focus on popular tourist attractions in and around London. But the section on public transport and cultural life in the city apparently comes with the following word of caution:
"London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people.... We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when traveling."
Outraged by this passage, Fan tweeted it at the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is of Pakistani origin and is known for his fondness for restaurants in the South London area of Tootin, which has a significant population of Indians and Pakistanis. Fan pointed out China's flagship carrier's advisory is in conflict with Khan's #LondonIsOpen campaign, launched in July this year, to welcome a diversity of population into the city.
The Washington Post reported that Rosena Allin-Khan, parliamentary member from Tooting constituency, expressed outrage at Air China's views, calling it offensive to all Londoners, not just the ethnic minorities who are targeted by it. The BBC quoted Virendra Sharma, a member of Parliament from Ealing Southall, also with a high Indian population, as saying, "I am shocked and appalled that even today some people would see it as acceptable to write such blatantly untrue and racist statements."
As Fan pointed out in her original article, causal racism is very much part of China's everyday life. In May, a detergent manufacturer had to apologise for running a blatantly racist advertisement in which an Asian woman was seen pushing a black man into a washing machine. A little later he emerged from the wash as "a clean Asian man".
Air China, which runs two flights daily from Beijing to London, has not commented on the incident. The number of Chinese visiting Britain in 2015, according to data available from VisitBritain, was 270,000, which was double the figures for 2014. They spent an estimated £586 million in Britain, which was 18% more than what their fellow Chinese did the year before.
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