By John Ross Source: Global Times published: 2016-8-26
Last weekend in Paris, thousands of members of the Chinese community in France, supported by other French citizens, demonstrated against the murder of Chinese dress designer Zhang Chaoling. Zhang`s death followed a savage beating in a robbery in the French town of Aubervilliers on Paris`s outskirts. The murder and demonstration naturally attracted great attention in China.
Slogans on the Paris demonstration included "The Chinese community is dying in silence" on T-shirts splashed with red to indicate bloodstains. The demonstration demanded "Safety for All." Many other members of the Chinese community in Paris reported attacks. The media stated 105 of the 666 robberies in Aubervilliers this year were of Chinese people.
The mayor of Aubervilliers, Meriem Derkaoui, participated in the demonstration, demanding police reinforcements be deployed.
This is not the first time that the Chinese community in France had to demonstrate against attacks. In 2010 and 2011, thousands of members of the Chinese community marched in the Paris district of Belleville to protest against escalating attacks on them. What is therefore taking place and what conclusions can be drawn?
First, it is necessary to be clear these attacks were not a rise of sentiment in France specifically aimed against Chinese people. Racist violence, both criminal and political, is rising in Europe. The chief target depends on the country. In Britain the main ongoing targets are Muslims and Jews, but following the Brexit referendum Poles were attacked. In Germany, the main target is Muslims. In Italy, racism is strongly directly against Roma people.
However, in no European country has the main national xenophobic target been the Chinese. The concentration of attacks on Chinese people in Aubervilliers was due to the specific local situation of a several thousand strong Chinese community in the area. This, however, does not lessen the threat such attacks constitute to the Chinese or any other community.
The underlying cause of the increasing racism is prolonged economic stagnation in Europe and the Western economies in general. In the last eight years, EU`s GDP grew an average of only 0.4 percent a year, accompanied by cuts in social expenditure and high unemployment. In France, unemployment among young people is 25 percent. The accompaniment of this by a serious undermining of the West European welfare states feeds racism, xenophobia and crime.
This trend caught some in China by surprise due to failure to accurately understand the social dynamics in Western countries. Many in China thought the European welfare state was undesirable because it was a "soft option." But the European welfare state was a rational choice bringing real measurable advantages to its population.
European life expectancy is strikingly higher than the US. Life expectancy is the best indicator of overall social conditions. Although the US has a higher per capita GDP than Europe, life expectancy in all major European countries is significantly higher than the US. US life expectancy is 79 compared to 81 in Germany, 82 in Italy and France, and 83 in Spain. Europe had much lower violent crime. The US murder rate per head of the population is three times as high as France, over four times as high as Germany, and almost five times as high as Italy.
The undermining of the relative safety of the welfare state strengthens racist and xenophobic European parties, such as Marine Le Pen`s Front National in France, while encouraging indiscriminate violent racist attacks. The Chinese community in France is not the main target of racism and xenophobia, but cannot escape its consequences.
Chinese communities in a number of European countries such as France have usually not been active in protest movements against racism in general. This partially reflects the fact that the Chinese communities were more prosperous than some other ethnic communities and had a tradition of owning restaurants and shops. But racists and xenophobes, who invariably intermingle with criminals, are not interested in whether communities are politically passive but merely in whether they are recognizable.
Chinese communities in Europe are a relatively small proportion of the population. It will be increasingly important to coordinate activity with other forces fighting against European racists and xenophobes.
I contacted the Deputy Mayor of Aubervilliers Fethi Chouder when writing this article. His message was simple: "Chinese people are very important in our city ... Economically, socially and culturally! They have the right to be protected and to live in peace, like other ones!"
The author is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.