African Nations Issue Protests Over Racism in China's Guangzhou in COVID-19 Fight

africa-guangzhou.jpg People of African descent gather on a street in the "Little Africa" district in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province and southern China's largest city, file photo taken March 2, 2018.

UPDATED at 7:30 A.M. EDT on 2020-04-14

African envoys in the Chinese capital Beijing have written a protest letter and governments of several African nations have summoned Chinese ambassadors following reports of forced coronavirus testing and quarantines, evictions from apartments and hotels, and other acts they said constituted racism against black people in the southern city of Guangzhou.

"The African Group of Ambassadors observes with consternation the discrimination and stigmatization of Africans whereby they are made to forcefully, and in a very crude manner to undergo epidemic investigation and Nucleic Acid Test, 14 days quarantine even if they had not traveled outside their jurisdictions, not come into contact with infected persons, not had close contact or showing any symptoms of the COVID-19," said the letter, dated April 10.

The envoys said that they had not been made aware of cases in which African nations had violated Chinese pandemic control laws, "Therefore, the singling out of Africans for compulsory testing and quarantine, in our view, has no scientific or logical basis and amounts to racism towards Africans in China," they wrote.

"We have received disquieting reports of inhuman treatments meted out to Africans particularly in Guangdong Province," said the letter, addressed to Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi.

Among examples of abuses the letter cited were Africans ejected from hotels in the middle of the night, African students singled out for coronavirus testing, Africans married to Chinese removed from their families and quarantined in hotels alone, the seizure of passports and threats of revocation of visas, arrest, detention and deportation of legal visitors "for no cogent reason," they said.

The group of African envoys "immediately demands the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans in Guangdong Province in particular and the whole of China," they wrote.

In African capitals, the foreign ministers of Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria have all summoned Chinese ambassadors in recent days after multiple reports and video clips emerged of evictions targeting African immigrants in the city as the authorities implement coronavirus quarantine and testing programs.

The Twitter account of Black Livity, a news and current affairs website for and about black people living in China, tweeted a video on April 11 of a laminated notice in English at a branch of McDonalds in China, which read: "We've been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant."

The notice then tells the recipient to report to the local police for coronavirus testing. The person shooting the video then hands it back to the employee, who is wearing a McDonalds uniform, after reading it.

African-Americans also warned

Black Livity commented: "For those who still doubt that Black people and particularly #AfricansinChina are being targeted we feel it is our duty to share this. A sign at a @McDonalds restaurant seems to make this perfectly clear."

The McDonald's Corp. issued a statement saying the sign at the McDonalds in Guangzhou was "not representative of our inclusive values"

"Immediately upon learning of an unauthorized communication to our guests at a restaurant in Guangzhou, we immediately removed the communication and temporarily closed the restaurant," said the company.

McDonalds will use the temporary closure of the Guangzhou restaurant "to further educate managers and employees on our values, which includes serving all members of the communities in which we operate," added the statement.

The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, the largest city in southern China and home to a trading district colloquially known as "little Africa," has said police have ordered local businesses not to serve people "who appear to be of African origin."

"African-Americans have also reported that some businesses and hotels refuse to do business with them," it said in an alert on its website.

"The U.S. Consulate General advises African-Americans ... to avoid the Guangzhou metropolitan area until further notice," it said.

Black people could be required to submit to a coronavirus test and then undergo 14 days' quarantine at their own expense, it warned.

Two months ago, Black Livity ran an op-ed discussing a recent spate of racist videos on Chinese social media targeting black people, but particularly Africans, including one in which black children say the words "I am a black monster [the Chinese equivalent of the N-word] and I have a low IQ."

Uganda's foreign minister Sam Kutesa conveyed his government's "serious concern ... on the harassment and mistreatment of its nationals," the foreign ministry said in a statement, while Nigerian foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama called via his Twitter account for "immediate Chinese government intervention" over the alleged maltreatment of Nigerians in Guangzhou.

Kenya's Saturday Nation newspaper ran a front page story with the headline: "Kenyans in China: Rescue us From Hell," reporting on "long nights in the cold, racial discrimination in shopping malls and retail outlets and attacks on public transport in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak."

"Residents of African descent have been kicked out of apartments on accusations of spreading the virus," the paper said, citing online video footage of young African immigrants sleeping on pavements and backstreets, or photos of signs barring foreigners from retail outlets.

'We do not have discrimination in China'

The country's foreign ministry has issued a "complaint note" to Beijing and asked the Chinese Embassy to follow up, the paper said.

Ghana's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey condemned what she called the “ill-treatment and racial discrimination” meted out to Ghanaians and other African nationals in China in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I have been briefed on the inhumane treatment being meted out to Ghanaians and other African nationals in the People’s Republic China with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak," Botchwey said in a statement reported by Ghana's Citinewsroom website on Saturday.

“I regret and highly condemn this act of ill-treatment and racial discrimination," Botchwey said, adding that she had summoned the Chinese ambassador over the matter.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, who chairs the African Union Commission, said the Commission had followed suit "to express our extreme concern at allegations of maltreatment of Africans in #Guangzhou."

“We do not have discrimination in China against African brothers,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing.

“It is irresponsible and immoral for the U.S. to sow discord,” he said. “Its attempt to drive a wedge between China and Africa will never succeed.”he said.

Without addressing the African letter or other diplomatic protests, Zhao said the provincial authorities in the southern province of Guangdong, of which Guangzhou is the capital, "are working promptly to improve their working method."

"The Chinese government has been attaching great importance to the life and health of foreign nationals in China," Zhao said in a statement reported by Agence France-Presse on Sunday.

"The Guangdong (provincial) authorities attach great importance to some African countries' concerns," he said.

The Black Livity op-ed, written two months ago, said black people living in China were "all angry about the mistreatment of our continent, communities and people."

"While our host country China battles coronavirus and bemoans [anti-Chinese] racism (rightly so) we, Africans and people of African descent have rushed to the country’s defence producing videos in support of the country and volunteering to assist in efforts to bring the nation back to normalcy," it said.

The article said the responsibility for educating its citizens lies with China, and quoted the late Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, who wrote: "The function, the very serious function of racism is a distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being."

Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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