Rise in mass muggings and attacks on Chinese tourists in Paris

PARIS (AFP) - Mass muggings and attacks on Chinese tourists in Paris have spawned alarm and warnings of a decline in the number of free-spending visitors from the Asian giant who swarm to France.

More than one million Chinese visitors come every year to France, a country which for them epitomises luxury, romance and quality products.

But that may very well change, said one expert, citing a slew of recent attacks which he says takes the sheen off the "City of Lights" for Chinese visitors.

"This has become a scourge. Since the past year, we have been seeing attacks almost every day," said Mr Jean-Francois Zhou, the head of Ansel Travel, which specialises in tours to and from China.

On March 20, a group of 23 Chinese visitors were robbed in a restaurant shortly after they landed in Paris's Charles De Gaulle airport.

Their passports, plane tickets and cash were stolen and the group leader sustained an injury to the face.

"The situation is serious. If these attacks continue, we may have to pay the price," Mr Zhou told AFP.

He said about 10 Chinese visitors were robbed on one day in October, mainly in the famed Louvre museum, right in the heart of the city.

And in February, "a minibus caught in a traffic jam was attacked, its windows were smashed and hand bags stolen," he said, adding there was a more recent attack on Chinese nationals at a four-star hotel in Paris.

Mr Li Peng, who is in charge of consular affairs at the Chinese embassy in Paris, said: "There has been an increase in the number of complaints filed over the past year.

"In a week we could have five to six demands for travel documents" to replace stolen passports, Mr Li said.

French Tourism Minister Sylvia Pinel has pledged that "everything will be done to find the perpetrators" of the latest mass mugging, and underscored "the determination of the French government to ensure the security of tourists in France".

Mr Zhou, the travel agency boss, said the Chinese were targeted as they were big spenders, adding: "Some of them carry up to 20,000 euros (S$31,822) for shopping." The latest incident has fuelled concern and some anti-French feeling on China's talkative social media scene, but several Chinese travel agencies declined to comment to AFP on the possible consequences.

One municipal travel committee in China's Jiangsu province urged travellers to take precautions.

"Chinese tourists who travel abroad are recommended to take less cash, never show off money or valuables, never talk to strangers in public places or scenic spots, always keep an eye on personal belongings," it said on its weibo account, a Chinese website similar to Twitter.

They should "take proper care of valuable items including passports" and "avoid going outside alone at night or in any remote places", it added.

Many Chinese Internet users reacted angrily to the attacks.

One said the incidents "impinge on the esteem and respect of Chinese people", adding: "We must demand justice." Another said: "The French government should give the Chinese people a reasoned explanation, and the criminals should be severely punished."

But other reactions were more nuanced. The incident "shows the dark side of developed countries, but also highlights that Chinese tourists stand out too much," said one post on weibo.

"They spend a lot of money, take a lot of cash along with them, they even wear luxury jewellery to flaunt their wealth. It's better to keep a low profile."

Mr Renlai Zhu, the head of a Chinese language website on the French capital named YouParis.com, said the situation was being blown out of proportion.

"The phenomena of thefts and aggressions, yes they are growing, but they also exist in Spain and in Rome," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.