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With increasing tension between the US and China these days, a growing topic of conversation among expats has been whether this will lead to hostility between locals and expats here.

Old war films airing on local Chinese TV, commentators spewing increasingly hostile rhetoric on official media channels, local businesses announcing actions against American businesses, the city offering cash rewards to citizens who turn in foreigners, and the government issuing warnings on travel to the US; for example, are just a few of the growing number of recent occurrences brought up during conversations asking whether Americans should still feel welcome.

 

Here we go again

This isn't the first time these types of conversations have come up. In fact, it was exactly three years ago this month that I found myself in many similar conversations with people, and published the article: "Is China Increasingly Hostile to Foreigners?" where I also cited reports of growing concerns among Americans.

Earlier this year, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) released their 2015 China Business Climate Survey where 47% of respondents said they felt less welcome in China than before. 57% believe foreign firms were specifically targeted in recent enforcement campaigns, and more than 50 percent said such campaigns are having a negative impact on their intent to invest further in China. Earlier this month, a report released by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China went even further by referring to the climate as "increasingly hostile".

The proportion of companies planning to expand their operations in China has slumped to 47% (compared to 86% three years ago) and a significant amount (41%) say they're planning to cut costs. “Business will continue to invest in China,” said James Zimmerman, chairman of the chamber, “but with more calculation and caution.” “The issue of inconsistent regulatory interpretation and unclear laws is on everyone's mind,” Zimmerman said, “and we encourage China’s leadership to make changes.”

 

Despite how some may be feeling, the government in China actively welcomes foreigners.

During the Q&A session at the first event of the Nanshan International Cultural Exchange and Service Center, Haisheng Zhu, who represented Zhaoshang Sub-district Party & Labour Union, said that President Xi mentioned in the Boao Forum for Asia that "China's door is open. It will not be closed, and will only open even wider”.

 

In fact, the government has been taking many steps to welcome foreigners since that AmCham report came out in 2016. In Shenzhen, for example, 

 

And in China as a whole there have been a growing number of tax breaks and incentives attracting foreign talent and investment:

 

Despite all of these efforts, and the improving business and living environments; however, many can't ignore the growing public rhetoric permeating the airwaves. Hanging over us like a dark cloud ready to unleash a torrent of rain, these occurrences leave many foreigners walking on their tippy toes, careful to avoid igniting tensions. 

 

Avoid the F word

I know from experience that it's hard for many to avoid using this word. In American English, for example, it's a versatile word that can mean many different things. However, when many Chinese hear this word; they understand only one thing... F YOU!

If you want to be careful not to be the cause of any hostility, keep a lid on this one.

Despite over ten years of marriage, I still notice tension every time my Chinese wife hears me when I accidentally let the word slip out. As guests in the country, it's important to be conscious and careful not to offend our hosts. Those that have been here a while have already seen how seemingly normal situations can devolve quickly into ugly ones.

A friend of mine, for example, found himself in a tough situation a few years ago, during the period when there was a lot of nationalistic uproar over the conflicts with Japan pertaining to the Diaoyu Islands. He was waiting in line to pay at a local supermarket when he was hit from behind by a shopping cart. His knee jerk reaction was to cry out "wtf," before he turned around and noticed it was just a granny who had accidentally bumped into him. Before he could even smile at the little lady, a group of people nearby who had heard his reaction took offense and began to surround him and verbally assault him. Being the smart guy that he is, he quickly paid for his groceries and left before the situation could escalate.

That was years ago though and luckily these types of situations are not common in Shenzhen. Looking back, it could easily have been avoided by having not used that pesky f word.

If, for whatever reason, you do find yourself in a tense situation, don't worry. Just stay calm, avoid raising your voice, walk away, or call 110, if necessary. If you're with friends, it may be a good idea to also make sure someone is recording what's going on in case you need to use it as evidence later. Although the city has close to two million cameras, they mysteriously rarely seem to capture the moments you need them to.

Finally, if you need any assistance or anyone to talk to, I strongly recommend reaching out to the staff at the growing number of centers being established in Shenzhen to assist foreigners in the city. You can find a list of the existing centers here. They even offer free legal advice if you need it.

The people and the growing number of services in this beautiful city are amazing and strive to make us feel welcome and enjoy life here so relax, don't let the media hype get you down, and have a happy effing Saturday.
 

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