The Washington Post

Why Chinese police may soon patrol Paris streets

Will Chinese police officers walk the Pont des Arts? (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

There was a time more than a century ago when European nations had garrisons in Beijing, tasked with quieting a rebellion and protecting the commercial interests of their respective countries. Memory of that moment still fuels Chinese nationalism. But those days are long gone--and, instead, Chinese visitors to Europe's most frequented capital may soon see their own constabulary keeping the peace.

According to an AFP report, citing a source at the French Interior Ministry, Chinese police have been drafted in to help watch busy tourist sites in Paris this summer. The details regarding the deployment are still in negotiation. The move to enlist Chinese police help follows a reported increase in crime where Chinese tourists are the victims. Alarming mass muggings have attracted headlines: most notably, 23 Chinese tourists were robbed in a Paris restaurant not long after arriving in the city, stripped of nearly $10,000 in cash, their plane tickets and passports.

French authorities clearly don't want Chinese visitors to be dissuaded, especially in a year that marks the 50th anniversary of France's diplomatic ties to the government in Beijing. In 2012, some 1.4 million Chinese tourists visited Paris; by 2020, that number is projected to reach 4 million, according to Austin Ramzy at the Sinosphere blog.

It's a constituency the French can't afford to alienate, despite, as Ramzy explains, the occasional upturned Gallic nose at the supposed lack of sophistication of some nouveau-riche Chinese visitors. Chinese tourists spent a remarkable $102 billion overseas in 2012, a figure that's only going to grow as more and more Chinese earn incomes that allow them to travel to Europe.

But the reputation of Chinese tourists as cash-rich makes them a target of choice for thieves and pickpockets; the presence of Chinese police officers on Parisian streets could lessen their vulnerability. That's probably the thinking among French officials, keen for the windfall Chinese tourists will bring to the local economy. In January, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabuis announced his government was going to cut red tape and fast track Chinese visa applications to France. His colleagues may eventually need more Chinese cops to cope with the influx.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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