China Warns its Tourists: Beware Gun Violence in America

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HONG KONG — China has warned its citizens about traveling to a foreign country with “highly frequent” gun violence.

That oh-so-dangerous place? The United States.

The notice, issued by the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Saturday, was China’s latest effort to warn tourists about a land where gun violence kills about as many people as car accidents — a rate that far exceeds that of any other rich nation.

The notice also said robberies and burglaries were common in the United States, and warned Chinese tourists to be cautious of “suspicious” people there. “Avoid going out alone at night,” it added. “If in danger, please be calm and call 911.”

Some social media users in China took the warning to heart.

“Just a gentle reminder to everyone: The U.S. is not safe,” one user wrote on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service.

“Domestic destinations are best for your summer vacation, especially Xinjiang, which is a paradise on earth,” the user added, referring to a region in China’s far west that has nonetheless been troubled by occasional ethnic violence and domestic terrorism.

China, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, has led the world since 2012 in the number of tourists who travel abroad, the United Nations reported last year. Its tourists spent $261 billion abroad in 2016, or more than twice as much as travelers from the United States, which ranked second in total spending on international tourism.

The rise in Chinese tourism overseas is partly related to rising incomes, but also to a sense among China’s growing ranks of affluent people that overseas tourism is an indicator of quality of life, according to a 2017 survey of Chinese and other tourists by Nielsen, the market research firm. Nearly half of that survey’s Chinese respondents said the safety of a destination would affect where they traveled.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting the United States has been rising steadily, to nearly three million in 2016, up from 525,000 in 2009, according to the Department of Commerce.

But China’s annual report on human rights in the United States, issued in response to the State Department’s annual reports on human rights in China, usually mentions gun violence. And the Chinese Embassy’s recent security notice was not the first of its kind.

After a Chinese student was shot and killed in Arizona in 2016, the Chinese Embassy warned against traveling to “crime scenes and tough neighborhoods.” And in 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles published a translated guide on responding to so-called active shooters.

In February, after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a newspaper controlled by China’s ruling Communist Party criticized the United States for its high level of gun violence. It said that American expressions of concern about human rights abroad were hypocritical moralizing considering Washington’s failure to prevent bloodshed at home.

And in an April notice on WeChat, a messaging platform, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned that gun crimes happened frequently in America.

“Be careful and prepare for the possibility that gun crimes may occur at workplaces, schools, at home and at tourist sites,” the notice said.

Knife attacks are relatively common in China, where firearms are strictly regulated. But the level of gun violence there is not even remotely on the order of what occurs in the United States.

A 2015 study found that from 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the attackers in mass shootings worldwide were American. Adjusted for population, the study said, only Yemen had a higher rate of mass shootings than the United States among countries with more than 10 million people.

A 2016 report by the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss nonprofit group, said the mortality rate for gun homicide in the United States was 31.2 deaths per million people. The only countries with higher rates were El Salvador and Mexico, with rates of 446.3 and 121.7 deaths per million people, respectively.

By contrast, the report said the risk of being killed with a gun in China — 1.6 deaths per million people — was roughly equivalent to dying in a plane crash in the United States. (And in Japan, where the rate was 0.1 deaths per million people, the risk was about the same as the chance of being struck in the U.S. by lightning.)

In January, the State Department warned Americans planning trips to China about arbitrary detentions, as well as special restrictions on people with dual United States and Chinese citizenship. But it said nothing about violence and linked to another State Department report which noted that China is “generally considered safe.”

Zoe Mou contributed research from Beijing.

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