China Africa (La Presse)

China-Africa Relations Put to the Test

In the People’s Republic of China, where COVID-19 first emerged, reports of racist and xenophobic incidents are adding insult to injury amid the current crisis. The primary victims are black Africans, many of whom have been forced out of their apartments or been placed directly under house arrest. While the Chinese government is unwilling to accept any guild, it has pledged to change the situation for the better.

Epicenter of Racist Incidents: Guangzhou

In Guangzhou, numerous openly xenophobic and racist incidents have outraged the international community while the local authorities continue to fight the effects of COVID-19. Since several Nigerians had previously been tested positive for COVID-19, foreigners complain about massive discrimination in one of China’s major cities.

For example, black Africans, in particular, report that they were arbitrarily placed under house arrest by Chinese authorities and forced to participate in virus tests. Others had been evicted out of their apartment by their landlords. Notably, most of the people affected are individuals who have lived and worked in Guangzhou for many years.

African Union Reacts, Expresses ‘Extreme Concern’

Naturally, the incidents meanwhile have caused a diplomatic crisis. The African Union summoned the Chinese ambassador, Liu Yuxi. Previously, the African Union had already told the Chinese government its “extreme concern” about discrimination against Africans in Guangzhou in particular.

The US government, meanwhile, went as far as accusing China of xenophobia and warned African Americans of traveling to Guangzhou. Washington was “condemning the abuse and mistreatment of Africans living and working in China,” a statement reads.

China Downplays Racism as ‘Misunderstandings’

China’s state and party leaders are now attempting to downplay the incidents. Liu Baochun from the Guangzhou City Foreign Office spoke of “individual misunderstandings and disproportionate actions” during the implementation of health requirements. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said there was no discrimination against “African brothers.” The warning from Washington that authorities in Guangzhou had taken more measures against Africans was rejected as an attempt to damage Beijing’s relations with African states.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government has now promised to better deal with Africans living in Guangzhou. The Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, said on Sunday that the life and health of foreign nationals in China were highly valuable to his government. The State Department also made it clear that the authorities in Guangdong Province — whose capital is Guangzhou — rejected all “racist and discriminatory” remarks.

China Assures African Nations that Racism is Taken Seriously

The government was taking the concerns raised by African countries very seriously and was working to improve its methods of fighting the pandemic. Thus, there should be no discrimination in health services, the spokesman assured. Moreover, hotel rooms should also be made available to foreigners who would have to quarantine for medical observation, at reduced prices.

However, despite the government’s claim of individual misunderstandings, xenophobic, and racist incidents across China have increased noticeably in recent weeks. The most important reason may be that the Chinese leadership emphasizes that most newly reported coronavirus cases were cases imported from abroad. Accordingly, non-Chinese-looking people in China are eyed with suspicion in many places.

The Reality in China: Foreigners Not Wanted

In Shanghai and other major Chinese cities, there are secluded residential areas where foreigners are no longer admitted. Many hotels in China generally no longer accept foreigners, even if they haven’t left the country for months. The fact that the imported coronavirus cases are 90 percent of Chinese returned is hardly mentioned in the state-controlled Chinese media.

The fact that black Africans are suffering from racism in China, however, is not a positive look for the regime, which is always concerned about maintaining its diplomatic facade. After all, China has invested heavily in Africa over the past two decades, which has ensured a strong influence on the continent and accordingly maintains close relationships with many African countries.