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Beijing will hold 'necessary talks' with Air China over London travel advice

Air China retracts feature, blames 'misinterpretations'

The Chinese government will talk to Air China about the flagship carrier's offensive travel advice, a Foreign Affairs Ministry official said, after underlining the country's respect for all ethnic groups and races.

Questioned at the Foreign Affairs Ministry's regular press conference on Thursday, spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, "Relevant departments will have the necessary talks with Air China, and we believe Air China will investigate about this and properly deal with it."

Hua was responding to a furor that erupted after CNBC drew attention to a feature on London in the September edition of Wings of China, Air China's inflight magazine.

The feature warned tourists, "London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people."

The travel advice caused outrage in London, where lawmakers called for an apology from the company, which is one of China's biggest airlines.

London lawmaker Virendra Sharma wrote to the Chinese ambassador to the U.K. to demand an apology, according to the BBC. "I am shocked and appalled that even today some people would see it as acceptable to write such blatantly untrue and racist statements," Sharma told the BBC.

"Tips from Air China" on safety when visiting London
Haze Fan | CNBC

In response to the complaints, Air China blamed the in-house Wings of China editorial team for the offensive comment. In a statement translated from Chinese by CNBC, Wings of China said that the comment had been misinterpreted by the media and readers but said it was sorry if the travel advice had made customers "feel uncomfortable."

Air China also released a statement on Thursday, translated by CNBC, in which it did not apologize, but called the advice was "inappropriate," and said it had ordered the removal of all copies of the magazine from its planes immediately.

Hua from the Chinese foreign ministry did not pass comment on the article, saying she was not aware of specifics, but signaled it wasn't consistent with official thinking.

"The policy of the Chinese government on ethnic groups and races is clear and consistent. We uphold equality among all ethnic groups and oppose all forms of racial discrimination," she said, according to a transcript posted on the ministry's website.

Hua was asked at the press conference for travel advice on Britain.

VCG | Getty Images

"Normally, we issue safety alert if the region is highly risky and conflict-stricken. For the UK, there has been no such thing so far," she said, adding, "We hope that people from the two sides can get to know each other better through more mutual visits."

A nation of 56 ethnicities, China itself grapples with tensions between the communities and is pursuing a policy of equality.

But Chinese companies have been criticized previously for their depictions of various races. In May, a Chinese laundry detergent-maker apologized for an advertisement that showed an Asian woman shoving a dirt-smeared black man into a washing machine, only for him to emerge as a clean Asian man.

The Air China embarrassment came as the rising world power is increasingly thrust into the international spotlight. The behaviors of its many tourists, and even its government officials have come under heavy global scrutiny and criticism, thwarting President Xi Jinping's efforts to promote the ancient culture as a soft power after economic reforms propelled the country to the world's second largest economy in just three decades.

Haze Fan contributed to this report.

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