Beijing condemns ‘racist’ attack on Bordeaux wine students
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An attack by a drunken gang on six Chinese students studying the French art of winemaking in Bordeaux has been condemned by Chinese authorities, who have demanded that France brings the perpetrators swiftly to justice.
A violent attack on a group of Chinese students in the Bordeaux wine-growing region at the weekend risked becoming an international dispute on Monday, as Beijing demanded that French authorities guarantee the safety of its citizens.
The six students, in their early 20s and taking a course in oenology (winemaking) at the Château la Tour Blanche vineyard, were set upon by three alleged attackers at their residence in the early hours of Saturday.
One Chinese woman, aged 24, was hit in the face with a glass bottle and hospitalised.
Police said the trio had been drinking heavily from the early afternoon on Friday. In custody on Sunday, they claimed they had no memory of the events.
French agriculture minister Stephane Le Foll condemned the attack on Sunday, saying that France’s image had been sullied in China, the third-biggest market for French wines.
“It's an unspeakable act,” Le Foll said at the opening of the Vinexpo in Bordeaux, one of the world's biggest wine fairs, adding that the alleged attackers had hurled racist insults at their victims.
"The image of France has been dented with these xenophobic attitudes," Le Foll added.
The attack generated immediate criticism of France on Chinese social networking sites, while China’s foreign ministry addressed the attacks at a regular news briefing on Monday.
“China expresses strong condemnation against the violent attacks against the Chinese students,” said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson. “The Chinese foreign minister and embassy in France take the issue seriously and the embassy sent staff to the site to assist Chinese students attacked.
“China has sent a representative to France to ask it to handle the case properly, bring the perpetrators to justice, and take effective measures to protect the safety and rights of Chinese in France.”
Tit-for-tat trade war
The attack on Chinese nationals comes amid growing tensions between France and China, with the focus very much on the issue of French wine.
China is an important market for French wine, which accounts for some 48% of Chinese imports - far higher than for Australian, New Zealand or other “New World” produce.
This status came under threat earlier this month when Beijing launched an anti-dumping probe into European wine imports in response to calls, led by France, to impose duties on Chinese-made solar panels that are threatening to undermine the European solar industry.
Despite the growing taste for French wine in China, many importers fear that the probe could result in significant import duties being slapped on French wines, a move that could put significant pressure on sales.
Increased Chinese presence in Bordeaux
Meanwhile, Chinese acquisition of Bordeaux vineyards continues apace.
To date, the Chinese influence in Bordeaux has not been overly controversial in a wine-growing region that has a long tradition of foreign ownership of wine estates.
But according to one Chinese national who travelled to Bordeaux to study the French art of winemaking, the growing presence of her fellow nationals is becoming an increasingly touchy subject.
“The French think chateaux and terroir are part of their patrimony,” 27-year-old Lu Qingqing told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. “And when Chinese people come and buy the wines and vineyards, they think ‘We don’t have any more for ourselves’.”
“It will take time for both to understand,” she added. “It’s the French who sell and the Chinese who buy, and it’s not like the French aren’t benefiting.”