Patriotism and tourism don’t travel well
Chinese visitors who angered Vietnam with controversial T-shirts showing disputed South China Sea boundary provide a reminder to stay out of trouble when abroad
Beijing’s chest-pounding policy of forcing foreign companies, especially international airlines, to adhere to its “one China” nomenclature in all their public communication may have become too successful and encouraged mainland tourists to behave a tad too nationalistic while travelling in other places.
That’s generally not a good idea – unless, of course, you want to invite trouble.
A group of mainland tourists was intercepted by security at an airport immigration desk in southern Vietnam after they were seen wearing identical T-shirts depicting the so-called nine-dash line showing the disputed boundary of the South China Sea claimed by Beijing, but contested by several neighbouring countries, including Vietnam.
After passports embossed with the 9-dash line, some tourists from #China now wear T-shirts with the controversial drawings. A contact of mine sent me these photos of Chinese visitors at an unspecified airport in #Vietnam. Not sure how authorities reacted! #SouthChinaSea pic.twitter.com/vT5e07XqYi
— Nga Pham (@ngaphambbc) May 13, 2018
They were ordered to change their shirts before being allowed to leave the airport. Photos of the group have since gone viral, inviting widespread criticism across Vietnam and even international news coverage. Some irate Vietnamese netizens have demanded the tourists be deported.
This is precisely the kind of incident China wants its people to avoid when travelling overseas. On the other hand, when you whip up so much nationalist pride, sometimes it’s hard to contain it.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China instructed 36 international carriers last month to stop listing Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan separately on their websites and mark them as part of China. Some carriers such as United Airlines and Japan Airlines have so far resisted the demand, but Korea’s Asiana Airlines has changed its website by referring to Taiwan under the heading “mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan”.
Meanwhile, US clothing retailer Gap is the latest to apologise for selling a T-shirt showing a map of China that mistakenly excluded Tibet and Taiwan. This follows similar apologies made by Delta Air Lines and the hotel chain Marriott International for failing to follow the one China standard properly.
As much as I feel pride in my country, I try to keep as low a profile as possible while travelling. That’s purely for self-preservation because you can never assume the locals like or welcome you as a tourist. You also don’t want to paint yourself as a target for con men, criminals or terrorists.
As China becomes more influential and assertive on the world stage, you can be sure that means stepping on other people’s toes, whether our leaders intend it or not. Defend our national honour if we must, but avoid trouble if we can.