Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Attack Shouldn't Cause Embassy Alarmism

Jun. 13, 2012


By Tom Fearon

The US Embassy has caused more of a stir than any other foreign office over the past couple of years in Beijing, largely because of its personnel.

First, there was former ambassador Jon Huntsman, the diplomat who was born to be wild, often seen cruising around the capital on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, clad in leather. His successor, Gary Locke, also caused a storm in a Starbucks coffee cup when he was spotted at the airport wheeling his own luggage, sans entourage, and paying for his own latte.

The latest scandal involves embassy employees who swapped diplomacy for debauchery in the wee hours of Saturday morning and ended up in a scuffle at a shady nightclub near Sanlitun, Beijing's boozy playground.

An advisory sent out by the embassy revealed that a group of "local nationals" had assaulted an embassy employee inside Element nightclub, near the Workers' Stadium.

The attack was allegedly unprovoked and carried out by security staff from the nightclub, the advisory added. It went on to warn Americans to "use caution" when indulging in the capital's nightlife.

It's an unfortunate incident, although one that isn't unheard of in an environment where alcohol flows and words can escalate into blows. However, let's not lose perspective of the fact that Beijing, for the most part, is one of the world's safest capital cities.

For a city of its size, violence and theft is comparatively low, but this shouldn't fuel a false sense of security or cause people to become complacent about their own safety.

It goes without saying that the alleged attack at Element ought to be investigated thoroughly and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. But let's be frank - it's common sense to be cautious when visiting nightclubs in Beijing (or anywhere in the world for that matter). The incident shouldn't cause panic.

Beijing traffic is notoriously congested and motorists habitually turn into pedestrians crossing the road, even when the pedestrians have a green light. Should an advisory be sent out, warning Americans about the perils of being a pedestrian? Or what about warning people that some goods sold at the Silk Market might not be authentic?

Learning these facts is part and parcel of being streetwise in this city.

Issuing advisories that warn people to be wary about possible hot spots for crime is the duty of any embassy that feels its nationals are at particular risk. However, isolated incidents shouldn't be cause for promoting the idea that one particular nationality is under threat.

The US Embassy should concentrate on reporting PM2.5 levels in Beijing's air. After all, it's the one advisory that affects everyone, and not just Americans.

See the original article here.