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Air China Apologizes for 'Racist' London Safety Tips

  • Mo Yu

FILE - Air China planes are seen on the tarmac of the Beijing Capital International Airport, July 11, 2011.

FILE - Air China planes are seen on the tarmac of the Beijing Capital International Airport, July 11, 2011.

Air China has apologized for safety tips to London-bound travelers that have been called racist and that sparked outrage among some British politicians, one of whom invited airline officials to see for themselves how safe his multi-ethnic district is.

On Thursday, China's flagship state-run airline issued a statement regarding the incident, calling some of the commentary featured in cabin magazines, “Wings of China,” inappropriate and not representative of the company's views.

"London is generally a safe place to travel," safety tips in the seat-pocket magazine say in both Chinese and English. "However, precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people."

Another tip: "We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when traveling."

Haze Fan, a Beijing-based journalist working for CNBC who was aboard the flight, was among the first passengers to photograph and Tweet portions of the text Wednesday.

"The advice is at odds with the London promoted by its Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Brit with Pakistani parents, who in July launched a #LondonisOpen campaign and frequently blogs about his favorite places to eat and drink in his South London Indian-Pakistani neighborhood of Tooting," Fan reported about her personal experience.

‘Racist storm’

An Evening Standard article described the magazine passages as triggering "racist storm" in London, citing Rosena Allin-Khan, a parliament member for the constituency of Tooting that has a large Indian and Pakistan population, as saying the safety tips are "outrageous" and "offensive to all Londoners."

Florence Eshalomi, London assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, told the newspaper: "You couldn't make up these outdated and near-on racist views," she said. "I keep thinking, is this 2016?"

After issuing its Thursday statement, Air China announced that all copies of the publications had been discarded and that airline officials demanded that its magazine producer acknowledge and learn from the incident.

In their own letter of apology, magazine editors said the incident was due to an editorial mistake, which is at odds with the article's initial intent to promote London's beauty and has "caused misinterpretation by some media and readers."

"We would also like to send sincere apology via Air China to passengers and readers who feel uncomfortable because of this," the letter said.

This is not the first time that Chinese companies made "racist" expressions via promotional materials. In May, an online detergent ad, which shows an African man coming out of the washing machine as a "whiter" Asian guy, triggered criticism.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service.

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