PARIS (Reuters) - Chinese police officers will join their French counterparts in patrolling some of Paris’ main tourism spots this summer as France looks to encourage more visitors from the Asian nation to boost its revenues.
France welcomes some 1.4 million Chinese tourists each year and sees doubling that number as a way to slash its trade deficit by about 2 billion euros. Each Chinese visitor spends an average 1,500 euros per visit and local and Chinese media have carried reports that they have been targeted by muggers.
“The details on these Chinese police officers have not been finalised, but they should arrive some time in June,” an interior ministry source said.
“It’s more for the symbol than the policing.”
Economic growth was flat in France last year and, while it is expected to gradually improve this year and next, President Francois Hollande’s government sees boosting tourism and trade as a vital tool in cutting unemployment stuck above 10 percent.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has made enhancing economic ties with China one of his priorities and this weekend embarks on his eighth trip to Beijing since taking up his post in 2012.
He was handed in April the task of reducing the trade deficit, developing external business and enhancing tourism revenue as part of an expanded portfolio.
“Tourism is one of the sectors where we can create jobs,” Fabius said in television interview late on Tuesday.
Chinese tourists are the second biggest group of visitors to France after Americans.
Fabius has already cut visa approval times for Chinese citizens to 48 hours, which has resulted in a 40 percent rise year on year in applications.
However, Chinese tourism associations complain that their citizens are increasingly targeted in Paris because of the belief they are more likely to carry cash than other tourists.
Jo Huangu, a 36-year-old Chinese tour guide accompanying a group of Chinese tourists outside the landmark Parisian department store Galerie Lafayette, said he thought the initiative would reassure his fellow citizens.
“It’s a good thing because I’ve heard many times about Chinese being robbed,” he said. “The attitude of the French police is that they don’t think it’s a big deal so hopefully this will make them work well with the Chinese.”
Fabius, who will sign a deal with online travel agent C-Trip to promote France as a destination while in China, acknowledged more needed to be done.
“Our policemen will ensure safety, but if there can be a psychological measure to help reinforce things then why not? They love France, but France must welcome them well. (They) have a lot of cash on them ... so there has to be safety and we still have things to do to ensure that,” Fabius said.
France’s trade deficit, which hit a record of 74 billion euros ($102 billion) in 2011 has fallen to about 61 billion euros but remains one of the starkest signs of French firms’ loss of competitiveness on international markets.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Paris in March to mark the 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Recognition of the People’s Republic of China by France in 1964, earlier than many Western countries, forms part of France’s claim to a special relationship.
Nevertheless, France trails far behind Germany on the trade front, accounting for just 1.2 percent of Chinese imports compared with 4.8 percent.
Editing by Mark John and Andrew Roche