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London is typical of liberal, multicultural Britain

By Chris Peterson | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2016-08-28 07:07

In a place where so many nationalities mix so easily, hearing about violence against Chinese students is shocking

Walking the few hundred yards or so from the train station to my office this week, I was struck by how cosmopolitan London is, as I threaded my way through office workers of both sexes, skin colors, and myriad different cultures.

You notice different languages more now with the advent of the smartphone, as people chatter away, and I picked up traces of French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Arabic, Vietnamese and Chinese as well as English before I reached the front doors.

No belligerence, no threats, and above all, no heavily armed police officers on each corner, although in this modern day and age security cameras are everywhere, and that gives a sense of well-being.

Of course, this was in broad daylight and everyone was intent on getting to work.

So like many others of my acquaintance, I was shocked by the results of the research my colleague Angus McNeice did on a growing threat to Chinese students in this country, particularly in the university city of Birmingham.

He found a growing trend of opportunist robberies against Chinese students, possibly because in the summer months they are perceived as having cash about them to fund their English studies, as well as expensive items such as iPads and smartphones.

That kind of mindless behavior toward people who are wholly innocent guests in this country, attracted by its academic traditions, its even-handed way of life, and above all tolerance toward visitors, must not be allowed.

It is ironic, too, because of all the cultural groups in this country, Chinese are known for their hard work, dedication to family, and above all being able to blend into the fascinating patchwork that Britain has become.

There's a similar worrying trend in France, which culminated this month in the killing of a Chinese man who lived with his family in Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris. He was the target of robbers.

I've been to Aubervilliers, in the 1980s, and back then it was a nondescript, middle-class French town. Now, it has become a center for cut-price fashion items, an industry run mainly by Chinese.

Like many French towns, it has attracted its fair share of migrants, mainly from North Africa, and there's unemployment there. Somehow, word has got around that the Chinese, who quietly go about their business, carry large amounts of cash. You can guess the rest. Suffice to say that Chinese residents feel so worried they have had to form a community support group.

So why has the situation in the UK come about?

Sadly, I feel it's the current wave of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment stirred up by the divisive referendum campaign on European Union membership, which has affected parts of the country.

Britons shocked everyone by narrowly voting to leave the EU, and immigration was seen as one of the main subjects.

Nigel Farage, a former commodities trader seen more often than not with a glass of beer in his hand, stoked up anti-immigrant feeling as head of UKIP, a political party that has one MP in Parliament and is loathed by many.

What worries me is that antagonism toward immigrants, never far below the surface in lots of ways, has gained a momentum of its own.

I'm not scaremongering, and I can assure you most of my wide circle of friends feels exactly the same way. It's always the bad news that makes headlines.

Sadly, animosity against immigrants is at its worst in areas like the agricultural counties of East Anglia, where traditional, low-paid seasonal jobs have been taken by workers from Eastern Europe.

But that doesn't represent the whole of this country, which I believe on the whole maintains its friendly and tolerant attitude toward genuine visitors.

I really hope that's true, and I trust our Chinese student friends here will feel as safe as they would in the relatively secure atmosphere of Beijing.

We're not all like that.

The author is managing editor of China Daily European Bureau. Contact the writer at

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