Hong Kong victims of axe attack on German train
One less conspicuous aspect of the axe attack last month (July 18th) on a German train, another in a series of relentless acts of terrorism in Europe this year, was the fact that members of a Hong Kong family were among the 19 injured. The attacker, alleged to be a teenage Afghan refugee (he later turned out to be Pakistani) reportedly screamed “Allahu Akbar” before fleeing the train with the police in hot pursuit. He attacked a woman out walking her dog with an axe swing to her head, severely injuring her, before being shot dead. Hong Kongers Mr. Yau, aged 62, and his daughter’s boy friend, 31, who were also among the victims, “suffered critical injuries and were under intensive care” in a German hospital.
The news of the attack on the Yau family, sightseeing in Germany after attending a family wedding in London, was naturally given extensive coverage in the Hong Kong press, including the South China Morning Post: “Hong Kong had its first direct encounter with the terror of Islamic State on Tuesday when a family from the city holidaying in south Germany was attacked on a train by an Afghan refugee said to be linked to the jihadist group.” (http://www.scmp.cm/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/1991626/two-hongkongers-critically-hurt-german-axe-attack-afghan). Local concern over the attack in far-off Europe was of such a high degree of intensity that Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Chief Executive CY Leung not only publicly condemned the attack but also dispatched a team of four immigration officials to accompany Yau family relatives traveling to Germany and to ensure the expeditious return to Hong Kong of the victims as soon as they were determined to be well enough to travel. The family’s elder daughter subsequently told the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper in an interview that her father and mother were injured when they came to the assistance of her younger sister’s boy friend whom the assailant was attacking with the axe. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/hong-kong-family-reveals-terror-of-german-train-attack)
The regional media attention to the attack on a Hong Kong tourist family was not limited to Hong Kong. Press in the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and even in Singapore highlighted the story. The Strait Times newspaper reported that the Yaus’ elder daughter and her husband had traveled to Germany after the attack to be with their family. The son-in-law said that the Yau family had been enjoying their European holiday before the attack. (http://www.straitstimes.com/world/europe/hong-kong-family-reveals-terror-of-axe-attack-on-train-in-germany).
Globe-trotting Chinese, with money in their pockets, have joined their Japanese and South Korean counterparts in recent years. They have headed for the tourist sites of old Europe with increasing frequency. On my recent visit to Italy, I saw a number of South Korean and Japanese tour groups going through the Vatican, met some Malaysian ethnic Chinese students at Rome’s main train station, and encountered a young Chinese couple at Trevi Fountain. Yet the large numbers of Asian tourists I saw on my trip may become a somewhat endangered species in Europe in the days and weeks following the well-publicized attack on the Yau family, coupled with the recent series of high visibility terrorist incidents.
The sound you may hear is that of the air going out of the European travel balloon as well-heeled Chinese tourists, joined by the Japanese and South Koreans, switch their international travel plans away from Europe and toward other destinations such as North America and Australia. There was reportedly a surge in calls, texts, and e-mails to travel agencies across East Asia after Europe’s summer of horror and bloodshed cancelling already booked vacation packages. One Asian diplomatic source even reported that instructions came from his capital to his Washington embassy banning travel to Europe even for leisure for the foreseeable future. As a result, one colleague planning a European vacation rerouted to Alaska instead.
Asia has, of course, had its own painful experiences with terrorism, including the 2002 Bali bombing (Indonesia), the 2008 Mumbai Taj attack (India), and the 2014 Kunming railway station knife attack (China). Then there was the not-jihadist-related recent knife attack (July 26th) on residents at a health facility for the mentally disabled in Japan, which left 19 dead. This “deadliest mass killing in the post-WWII era” in Japan by a deranged perpetrator occurred in a country where “mass killings usually are seen half a world away on the nightly news.” (http://www.the-daily-record.com/latest%20headlines/2016/07/27/rare-mass-killing-raises-questions-about-security-in-japan). It has not been determined if the almost weekly reports this summer of violent incidents in Europe were of any inspiration to the attacker, a reported former disgruntled employee at the mental health facility. He had previously written a letter to the Japanese Diet stating that people with disabilities should “cease to exist.” So terrorist attacks, while occurring in Asia, are far more rare than has been the case in Europe, in the Middle East, or even in Africa.
Increasing numbers of Asian tourists seem to be determining that it is not worth potentially risking one’s life to see the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, or the Colosseum. Perhaps watching the whales in Alaska or viewing Sydney’s magnificent harbor would prove to be a nice consolation prize. This is not good news for such countries as Italy and France who look to international tourism as a major source of foreign-generated revenue. With 48.6 million visitors in 2014, Italy is the fifth most visited country for international tourists, with over 2 million arrivals from China and over 1 million from Japan that year. And Bloomberg reported on August 7th that “terrorist attacks are taking their toll on France’s tourism industry…overnight stays (in Paris) fell about 10 percent on average this year through July, with high-spending travelers from the U.S., Asia and the Persian Gulf states reacting strongly to the attacks.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-07/french-tourism-slumps-as-terror-attacks-spook-foreign-travelers). Bloomberg had another report in August 2014 that even before the recent terrorist attacks “the Paris Syndrome ” of “pickpockets” and “rude waiters” was turning off the estimated over 1.5 million Chinese tourists who visit the French capital annually. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-14/the-paris-syndrome-drives-chinese-tourists-away).
France has been the world’s top destination for international tourists, with an estimated over 83 million visitors annually generating 7 percent of France’s GDP. Yet the South China Morning Post reported on July 28th that travel by mainland Chinese tourists to France is down 15 percent as a result of the latest attacks. (http://www.scmp.com/news/china/money-wealth/article/1995731/terrorist-attacks-deter-chinese-tourists-top-european).
The recent 11th Asia-Europe (ASEM) meeting of 30 European and 21 Asian countries, held July 15-16 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, underscored the growing importance of the commercial ties between the two continents. If jihadists can scare Asian tourists enough with attacks like the one on the Yau family, they not only can spread terror but also can do great damage to Europe economically.