The alleged rape of a Beijing college student by an Indian man in Hong Kong has stirred wide attention — and debate — in Chinese social media websites even as the suspect was on Tuesday produced before a Hong Kong court.

The accused had reportedly attacked the university student in a guesthouse in Hong Kong’s famous Chungking Mansions, a sprawling complex of shops and cheap guesthouses that is popular with backpackers. The 26-year-old Indian man was reportedly working there illegally as a porter, and was seeking asylum in Hong Kong according to media reports. He had been granted temporary permission to stay in Hong Kong — as many asylum seekers are — although not allowed to seek employment.

As the suspect was produced in the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court, no plea were taken, the official China Daily reported on Wednesday, adding that he would remain in custody before returning to court next month following a forensic investigation.

The case, which came to light last week, has received wide attention in Chinese social media websites, triggering a debate on the safety issues that younger Chinese travellers, who are increasingly venturing overseas in greater numbers, needed to be mindful of.

The guesthouse where the attack took place, called Rhine Guesthouse, was located within the Chunking Mansions complex. The China Daily said it was rated as among the most popular places to stay for young travellers on a Chinese travel website, but the listing was removed on Tuesday. The newspaper said this was not the first such attack at the complex, citing a report that an Indian woman was gangraped at Chungking last year during a power failure.

The complex enjoys a somewhat seedy reputation among many Hongkongers and mainland Chinese as home to asylum seekers and immigrants from Asia and Africa as well as some establishments of ill-repute. Its cheap guesthouses have, however, become a popular destination for younger Chinese travellers, particularly after acclaimed director Wang Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express which left, for many Chinese, an alluring impression of Hong Kong’s underbelly. A commentary on Sina, a popular portal, said there was a need to “raise awareness for safety” for Chinese travellers. “For those who have not been to Hong Kong but are full of admiration [for] the people, Hong Kong is almost equivalent to Wong Kar-wai,” it said, adding that the reality was far less romantic than the 1994 film.

‘India unsafe’

That the attacker was Indian has also appeared to reinforce perceptions among many Chinese bloggers of India as an unsafe destination for women travellers, judging by the hundreds of comments that were posted online on Wednesday. Many comments warned Chinese against travelling to India, also pointing to the recent report of a gangrape of an American traveller in Himachal Pradesh. “A day after this attack in Hong Kong, an American is attacked in India, what is happening?”, read a much-forwarded post on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent used by 500 million people.

Safety concerns were a factor behind the poor tourism figures from China to India, according to one travel agency in Beijing. India issues only around 50,000 tourism visas for Chinese every year, even as a huge surge in outbound tourism now sees 50 million Chinese travellers heading abroad every year, preferring Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia despite wide interest in India’s Buddhist sites. Another factor, the agency said, was the lack of adequate Chinese-speaking tourist guides.

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