China said on Thursday it opposes all forms of racial discrimination after state-owned Air China withdrew an in-flight magazine that warned travellers to be careful while visiting Indian, Pakistani and black neighbourhoods of London.
The flag carrier was at the centre of a racism row as the latest edition of its magazine, Wings of China, featured an article with the blunt advisory. Angry British politicians, especially those representing areas with Indian and Pakistani populations, demanded an apology.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a news briefing: “We consistently advocate for and support the equality of all ethnicities without exception and oppose all forms of racial discrimination.” She said Air China would “appropriately handle” the issue through an investigation.
Air China said the magazine used “inappropriate” language and the article didn’t represent the airline’s views.
“After discovering this problem, Air China immediately removed this magazine from all flights and demanded that the publishers of ‘Wings of China’ seriously learn from this lesson, strengthen their content review and avoid making similar mistakes,” it said.
The article, in English and Mandarin, read: “London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people.” It also advised tourists not to go out alone at night, and for women not to travel alone.
Virendra Sharma, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, was upset by the magazine’s advice and invited visitors to his constituency, which has many people of Indian-origin, to see how safe it is.
Sharma told Hindustan Times on Thursday it was not fair for the magazine to tender such advice and it was not right to brand entire communities as criminal or neighbourhoods as unsafe.
He said: “I am shocked and appalled that even today some people would see it as acceptable to write such blatantly untrue and racist statements. I have invited representatives of Air China to visit my constituency to see that a very multicultural area is safe, and would be of great value for those visiting London to see.”
Sharma said he wrote in the “strongest possible terms” to China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, asking Air China to visit his constituency. He also asked the envoy to seek an apology from the airline.
“I will await their response, and if an appropriate one is not forthcoming I shall feel forced to question whether Air China is a fit company to operate in the UK,” he said.
Southall is among London’s most diverse areas and has several gurdwaras and temples. It is a vibrant area for business and industry mostly owned by and employing people with origins in different parts of the world.
A spokesman from civil rights campaign group Hope Not Hate said: “If true, these comments are crassly ill-informed and offensive, and simply peddle to outrageous stereotypes. It beggars belief to understand how they could have been written in the first place. They should be removed immediately. Londoners deserve an apology.”