Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
A rash of crimes against East Asian tourists has forced the French capital to get creative.
This summer, Paris will get a new security force patrolling its streets: police from China. Part of a plan announced this week by France’s interior ministry, the People’s Republic will provide francophone officers (paired with French counterparts) to monitor areas of the French capital where Chinese tourists congregate.
The idea of a foreign police force pounding Paris’ sidewalks might sound odd, but the problem it’s addressing is very real: a rise in crime against East Asian tourists. The number of incidents has been rising steadily, ranging from pickpocketing to a notorious case last spring where a party of 23 Chinese visitors was attacked and robbed at a restaurant near Charles de Gaulle Airport. Chinese and Japanese tourists are often targeted before visitors from other areas because they have a reputation for carrying around large amounts of cash. As news of this rash of robberies filters back to China, the damage it could do Paris’ economic health is potentially high. China’s tourists spend more on shopping than any other nation’s, and the French capital is their favorite European destination.
Paris isn’t the only city struggling with an image problem when it comes to crime against tourists. London’s reputation among Middle Eastern travelers is still reeling after two attacks on visitors from the United Arab Emirates last month, one of which was truly horrendous. In early April, three Emirati women were accosted in their hotel room and beaten brutally with a hammer, in an assault whose extreme violence left even its investigators distraught. A few weeks later, an Emirati family was attacked by an armed gang in an apartment nearby. Arrests have been made in both cases, but in the Emirates themselves the attacks have unleashed a wave of fear and soul-searching. The hashtag #london_is_not_safe has trended on Twitter, with a popular image circulating along with the legend "Dubai's heat is better than London's hammer." London’s status as an unofficial summer capital for the Gulf, when whole families can come for weeks to escape their homeland’s blazing humidity, is at risk.
In both Paris and London, part of the problem is that visitors suspect local authorities don’t care about them. As much as preventing crime, Paris’ new Chinese force is aimed at overturning this impression. It could also help with monitoring, as visitors may be more likely to report crime when there is no language barrier. As things stand, pickpockets know they’re more likely to evade investigation if they pick out non-French speakers, especially if they’re stealing cash that insurance policies may not cover anyway. Given that London and Paris compete pretty intensely to attract tourists from Asia and the Middle East – Paris comes out top for the former, London for the latter – the French move to reassure visitors might just give them the edge.