The Chinese community in Argentina say they fear for their lives as looting of Chinese shops continued amid recent unrest in the South American country this week.
Pictures circulating on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, showed that Chinese business owners have armed themselves with weapons including guns to deter violence.
“Every Chinese supermarket has bought five guns, and some have barricaded themselves with electric fences,” said a local business leader, according to China’s Legal Times. “The reason we are being victimised is because we’ve put up with [the bully] silently for too long,” the anonymous businessman added.
David Lin, a Mendoza-based supermarket owner who has lived in Argentina for 12 years, told the South China Morning Post on Thursday that things have "calmed down" a bit in the past few days. Lin said since more than 80 per cent of the country's supermarkets are estimated to be owned by the Chinese, the community has suffered considerable financial loss in the looting.
One Chinese shop owner in the Buenos Aires province died earlier this month in a fire started by thugs, China’s Global Times reported.
The local Chinese community fear more attacks will follow. A Facebook event had earlier been created calling for a massive protest and looting in Chinese shops on December 20th, the anniversary of the worst day of the country’s 2001 economic meltdown. Thousands confirmed on Facebook that they would join. Two people have been arrested for creating the event, according to media reports.
Chinese internet users responded angrily to the looting on Weibo on Thursday, many blaming the Chinese government for failing to look after the safety and interests of their overseas citizens.
Phone calls Chinese netizens made to the embassy went mostly unanswered, Lin said. "It's very hard for us to get hold of them through phone even when there is no crisis," he said.
Li Wei, China’s deputy minister of public security, visited Argentina on December 7 - 10 after looting against the Chinese businesses had spread across the country. Li met with the country’s security chiefs and urged the Argentinan police to better protect Chinese nationals, according to the website of the Chinese embassy in Argentina.
Yet on Weibo, some Chinese citizens complained that the police officers sent to protect them were not so different from the thugs.
"The police eat and drink for free, and they take whatever they want from the supermarket - usually the most expensive stuff," microblogger "LonerinArgentina" wrote. "We are angry, but we dare not say anything."
Despite the violence, Lin said most Chinese people were reluctant to leave the country.
"I have discussed the option with friends, and they think it's still easier to make money here than in China," he said.
At least 11 people were killed and hundreds of others injured as chaos gripped Argentina this month amid a police strike demanding pay rises.