According to belated reports, there were violent clashes between Chinese and Algerian retail traders in Algiers on the evening of August 3,2009, following a heated argument between a Chinese and an Algerian over the former wrongly parking his car outside the shop of an Algerian.
2. It is alleged that the Algerian and his brother beat up the Chinese owner of a shop. Following this, there were widespread clashes between Algerian and Chinese traders. A number of shops were destroyed. Ultimately, the police intervened and restored order. All Chinese shops have remained closed in Algiers since the clashes. The Chinese Embassy in Algiers has reportedly issued an advisory to the Chinese living and working in Algeria- estimated to be about 25,000- to stay at home till the anti-Chinese anger has subsided.
3. The Algerian traders affected by the riots have started a campaign to demand the expulsion of all Chinese from Algeria. They have accused the Chinese of not respecting Islam and of drinking in public and moving around in shorts. Muslims regard shorts as indecent. News agencies have quoted one of the Algerian traders as saying as follows: “The Chinese have taken advantage of the kindness of the Algerians. They were accepted despite their faults, today they are attacking us.They drink alcohol in front of their shops and in full view of the Algerians and often parade about in shorts in the area. This sort of behaviour is against our religion and our culture,”
4. The Algerian authorities and the Chinese Embassy in Algiers have been trying to reduce the anger in the two communities against each other. They have been trying to play down the clashes as isolated incidents. The “Global Times” of Beijing, an English daily of the “People’s Daily” group of newspapers, admiited the violent incidents in a report dated August 5 carried by it on August 6,2009. The report said as follows:
“A fight involving about 100 people in the Algerian capital, Algiers, between Chinese workers and Algerian residents is under investigation, Chinese Embassy staff told reporters yesterday (August 4). The clash happened Monday evening in an area called Chnaoua (Chinatown). A Chinese resident allegedly tried to park his car in front of an Algerian shop but was prevented from doing so. The Algerian owner of the shop later admitted that he beat the Chinese after turning him away.The Chinese man then fought back, along with about 50 companions, triggering the brawl that resulted in dozens injured and five Chinese shops looted. There were about 60 locals involved.
“This is a typical criminal case that has nothing to do with anti-China sentiment or terrorism”, Shao Tian, an official of the Chinese Embassy, told the Global Times, adding that the Embassy is working on it and helping local investigation.
“We trust the Algerian police to shed light on what happened”, Ling Jun, another diplomat from the Chinese Embassy, told Reuters.
“Both sides made mistakes in this case, but the Chinese workers should have shown more class”, said He Wenping, research chief at the Western Asia and Africa Research Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “They are representing China there, but what they have done is disgraceful. They should have used the local law to protect them, not violence”, she added.
“Depression-stricken Algeria has been hit hard by high unemployment, as seven out of 10 adults under 30 are out of work”, according to Reuters. An analyst said that some jobless Algerians are blaming foreign workers for the conditions, especially the estimated 35,000 Chinese workers.
“Some Algerians are emotional under the harsh economic conditions”, he said adding that “Chinese workers there should show their sympathy and discipline themselves more. Behavior such as drinking in public, which is not welcomed by Muslim people, should be stopped”.He stated further that “China warned its citizens in Algeria last month about possible attacks by Al Qaeda’s North African wing after the July 5 riots in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region”.
“Apparently there was no evidence of any direct link between the brawl and the infamous terrorist group. China and Algeria will continue their friendly relations and overcome the financial crisis together”, he added. (End of the “Global Times report)
5. While there is no evidence so far to indicate any link between the North African wing of Al Qaeda and the anti-Chinese violence in Algiers, the Algerian outburst against the Chinese on August 3 came at a time when there is some anger against the Chinese in Turkey and North Africa over the violent incidents involving clashes between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese at Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province of China, in the first week of July 2009. The action taken by the Chinese against the Uighurs is being seen as anti-Muslim. The Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan enjoys the support of Al Qaeda. It has called for attacks on Han Chinese wherever found in reprisal for the Urumqi incidents.
(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )