COVID-19: China Bows To Pressure On Discrimination Against Africans

China pledged to ease health measures on Africans particularly Nigerians in the southern city of Guangzhou, as the country sought to resolve a dispute that could set back Beijing’s diplomatic outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has treated foreigners equally and attaches great importance to their life and health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a statement posted late Sunday. “We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination,” Zhao said.

African leaders alleged discrimination against their citizens by city authorities in measures to stem the spread of imported coronavirus cases, saying Africans were mistreated, evicted from hotels, and forcefully tested for the virus. Meanwhile, McDonalds China apologized Monday after one of the chain’s Guangzhou restaurants refused to serve black customers.

African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “extreme concern” to Chinese Ambassador Liu Yuxi about “allegations of maltreatment of Africans” in Guangzhou. In a tweet Saturday, he said the African Group in Beijing was engaging with the Chinese government.

South Africa, the current African Union chair, separately expressed concern about “alleged ill-treatment of African nationals in China, including the forceful testing, quarantining for COVID-19, and other inhuman treatment.” The country called for an investigation into the matter, according to a statement from the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

McDonald’s China said that it had closed a restaurant in Guangzhou for a half day of diversity and inclusion training Sunday after an investigation confirmed social media reports that it was barring black customers. “We apologize unreservedly to the individual and our customers. The restaurant has been ordered to stop immediately such actions,” McDonald’s China said Monday.

The episode underscores the complexity of Beijing’s challenge to manage the fallout from a disease first discovered in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. China has dispatched medical supplies and shared expert advice to assist Africa, where Beijing’s fiscal and infrastructure support has long been a source of both praise and criticism.

Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong told more than 20 ambassadors from African countries Monday that authorities in Guangdong would ease “health management” measures — an apparent reference to quarantines — of Africans. The province planned to gradually remove the restrictions, except for confirmed patients, suspected patients and others with close contacts, Chen said, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website late Monday.

Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, separately hit back Monday at the U.S. State Department for a statement Saturday saying that the incidents involving Africans in China were “a sad reminder of how hollow” Beijing’s ties to the continent were. “The U.S. is immoral and irresponsible to sensationalize the situation and it won’t succeed in sabotaging China-Africa relations,” Zhao told a regular briefing Monday in Beijing.

Guangzhou has confirmed a total of 119 imported cases of Covid-19, with 25 being foreign nationals, Mayor Wen Guohui told a news conference Sunday. Wen said the Guangzhou government has treated all foreigners equally.

“Guangzhou is an open-minded metropolis,” he said. “It’s our consistent principle to have zero tolerance for discriminatory comments and behavior.”

Africans in the industrial centre of 15 million say they have become targets of suspicion and subjected to forced evictions, arbitrary quarantines and mass coronavirus testing, particularly as Beijing steps up its fight against imported infections.

The African Union expressed its “extreme concern” about the situation on Saturday, calling on Beijing to take immediate corrective measures.

The United States, meanwhile, denounced what it called “xenophobia towards Africans by Chinese authorities.”

A recent cluster of coronavirus cases linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou, southern China’s largest city, sparked the alleged discrimination by locals and virus-prevention officials.

Several Africans told AFP they had been forcibly evicted from their homes and turned away by hotels.

“The Chinese government has been attaching great importance to the life and health of foreign nationals in China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a statement.

“The Guangdong (provincial) authorities attach great importance to some African countries’ concerns and are working promptly to improve their working method,” he added.

Among the measures Zhao announced were non-discriminatory health management services and hotels for foreigners who are required to undergo medical observation, to be offered at reduced rates for those in need.

He said officials in Guangdong rejected “all racist and discriminatory remarks.”

The first reports of heightened discrimination came after local authorities said at least eight people diagnosed with the illness had spent time in the city’s Yuexiu district, known as “Little Africa”.

Five were Nigerian nationals who faced widespread anger after reports surfaced that they had broken a mandatory quarantine and been to restaurants and other public places.

China has made massive investments in Africa over the past 20 years and maintains positive relations with most countries there.

“China-Africa friendship is unbreakable as it is deeply rooted in this land,” Zhao said.

China has largely stemmed its coronavirus epidemic, but remains on alert over the threat of reinfection from individuals arriving from abroad who could cause a second wave of the virus. AFP