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Air China apologizes amid anger over magazine’ ‘racist article’

Air China and the publisher of its in-flight magazine have issued apologies in the wake of accusations of racism, after an image of an article from on board magazine “Wings of China” was posted on Twitter.

An image of an article from onboard magazine "Wings of China" shows in Chinese and English that "precautions are needed" for visitors going to areas of London "mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people." [Photo: Agencies] 2016.mb.com.ph

An image of an article from onboard magazine “Wings of China” shows in Chinese and English that “precautions are needed” for visitors going to areas of London “mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people.” [Photo: Agencies] 2016.mb.com.ph

The article, which has caused uproar in the UK and on social media, says in Chinese and English that “precautions are needed” for visitors going to areas of London “mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people.”

A photo of the magazine article was posted to Twitter where it was quickly shared, with many users expressing outrage and accusing Air China of racism. Member of Parliament Virendra Sharma, who represents a constituency of London with a large ethnically Asian population, called the advice “blatantly untrue and racist.”

Sharma, along with fellow London MP Rosena Allin-Khan, has approached the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming for comment. Sharma also invited Air China staff to visit his constituency in Ealing “to see that a very multicultural area is safe, and would be of great value for those visiting London to see.” Ealing was home to a 30 percent Asian population in the last UK census in 2011.

In response, Air China’s North American branch tweeted and then deleted an apology on Thursday, saying “Air China do not condone discrimination in any shape or form.” The message promised that the magazines with the offending article would be removed from all flights, and that the issue would be raised with the publisher – “a separate entity from Air China.” It remains unclear why the apology was deleted.

Later on Thursday, a Chinese language notice statement from the publishers of the magazine apologized to Air China for “improper expressions” that had hurt its brand. The statement said the article had triggered “misinterpretations among media and readers,” and expressed its “sincere apologies…to all the readers and passengers who felt uncomfortable because of this.”

On Twitter, Labor MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Helen Hayes called the article “disgusting, unacceptable racism,” while Florence Eshamoli, a government representative for Lambeth and Southwark told The Evening Standard “you couldn’t make up these outdated and near-racist views.”
However, there were some posts on social media in support of Air China’s article, with Facebook user Matt Byles saying Air China “are only following statistics,” and other users calling the advice “kind of true.”

Air China’s in-flight magazine is not only sweeping in its generalization by linking crime in London with areas with high populations of ethnic minorities, it is also simply not based on fact.

According to the Metropolitan Police’s website, which gives up to date statistics on crime in each of London’s 32 boroughs, as of July 2016 only 3 boroughs had “high” or “above average” rates of crime – Westminster (high), Camden and Islington (both above average). Based on the most recent nationwide census of the UK, these three boroughs all have majority white populations, with black and Asian populations of between 7 and 15 percent.

In fact, the areas that Air China’s advice appears to be specifically keen on warning visitors about – those with high black and Asian populations – are not particularly dangerous, according to official police data.

In the most recent census, the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Croydon and Newham had the highest percentage of black residents, but only average crime rates. The boroughs of Newham, Redbridge, Brent, Tower Hamlets and Harrow had the highest percentage of Asian residents, but again all had average crime rates except for Harrow, which is one of only three out of thirty two boroughs in London to have a “below average” crime rate.

Air China is, according to its annual 2015 report, the only Chinese airline with “operations covering all six continents.” It carried 89.816 million passengers in 2015, operating routes to 40 countries and regions.