Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, issued scathing remarks against the communist government of China on Thursday, announcing Nigerian diplomats in Guangzhou were instructed to document cases of racism by Chinese against their citizens.
For weeks, videos, local reports, and other evidence have indicated widespread racist attacks and policies by Chinese in Guangzhou, a southern port city that is home to many of China’s African residents. Africans and black people from other parts of the world in the city reported being forcibly evicted despite paying their rents and banned from businesses like hotels and restaurants.
In a particularly embarrassing incident for the American company, a McDonald’s in Guangzhou posted a sign stating it would not allow black-skinned people into the establishment, triggering “diversity and inclusion training” mandated by corporate officers.
Many Africans were reportedly forced to sleep on the streets of Guangzhou, despite having the money to pay for shelter, because no Chinese residence or hotel would take them.
The racism appears to be based on rumors circulated in party by the Communist Party that cases of Chinese coronavirus in its origin country are now coming from “foreigners.” Beijing calls cases of individuals diagnosed with Chinese coronavirus after entering the country from abroad “imported” cases and claims any threat to Chinese nationals comes from these, and not domestic, cases of the virus.
There is no evidence that African people are more likely to be carrying the virus and it is not clear why some in Guangzhou concluded that banning black people from their businesses would protect them from the Chinese coronavirus. Africa is among the continents with the lowest numbers of documented Chinese coronavirus cases.
“We are deeply wounded by what is happening to Nigerians and other Africans living in China, it is something we never expected and we will pursue it,” Onyeama told reporters in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, on Thursday.
“We have an engagement with the Chinese government at various levels. The level of our consulate in Guangzhou, which is where these cases of discrimination and racism have been taking place. and also at the federal level in China, in Beijing,” Onyeama explained, claiming that China was providing “medical assistance” for Nigerian Chinese coronavirus patients.
The foreign minister then appeared to accuse the Chinese government of lying about the racism in Guangzhou.
“We’ve made it clear to the Chinese government in no uncertain terms, unequivocally, that under no circumstances we will accept racial discrimination against Nigerians and the Africans or blacks in China,” Onyeama continued. “That that is a red line for us. They have, in turn, told us that there is no case of that … but clearly, you know, we are seeing videos, have received reports, and we told them it’s unacceptable.”
“I have directed the [Nigerian] consulate in Guangzhou to systematically detail every single case of discrimination and every single case of loss or damage suffered by any Nigerian,” Onyeama announced. “We will pursue every single one very robustly with the Chinese government if it requires compensation and damages.”
Onyeama proclaimed his government “extremely disappointed such a thing could happen.”
That is a red line for us because we showed China real solidarity in not placing a ban on China during the early outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan. But of course, the Government of China has given us explanations that no such thing will occur any more.
— Geoffrey Onyeama (@GeoffreyOnyeama) April 23, 2020
“As the World’s largest black nation, it behoves [sic] us to defend the dignity of blacks and Africans anywhere in the world,” Onyeama added on Twitter.
The foreign minister’s tone differed significantly from his remarks last week, when reports of Nigerians forced out into the street in the middle of a pandemic first surfaced. During a press conference on April 14, Onyeama criticized local Guangzhou officials, and not the Chinese government generally, for not discussing issues with Nigerians in the city with their government. Chinese state television interpreted his remarks as saying there was “no evidence of discrimination.”
In addition to being banned from restaurants for having darker skin than Chinese people, black people in Guangzhou reported government harassment, such as being forced to take many more coronavirus tests than non-black counterparts and being quarantined in their homes even after testing positive.
In a report published by BBC this week, one African in Guangzhou speaking anonymously documented his “arbitrary detention” at home, forced into quarantine despite having no known contact with any Chinese coronavirus patients and no evidence of infection.
— Danny Vincent (@dannydvincent) April 19, 2020
“They have to stay here and they can’t stay in a hotel because the hotel doesn’t want them anymore. Some people are living in the streets,” an African man identified by the pseudonym “Leo” told Vice in a report published Friday. “Some people want to go to restaurants, but they can’t buy food because the restaurants tell them, ‘We’re not selling you food because you are Black..'”
Onyeama’s new comments may be a result of growing outrage in Africa at its governments for not doing enough to punish the Chinese government for allowing racist abuse.
“These are serious violations of rights which we, black people are not going to stand by and tolerate,” members of the Africa Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI) wrote in on open letter to dictator Xi Jinping published this week by Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper. “It is in the spirit of fairness and respect for human rights that we urge you in the strongest of terms, to put an immediate end to the harassment, intimidation, and inhumane treatment meted out to African brothers and sisters, sons, and daughters living in your country. The line has been crossed and enough is enough! We demand immediate reciprocity.”
Xi Jinping has made no public comments on the racism in his country.
In Kenya, columnist Makau Mutua wrote at the Daily Nation that his government “has been neutered by the Chinese.”
“The Chinese are bent on exploiting every last natural resource in Africa to feed their hungry and voracious industrial appetite,” Mutua wrote in an April 19 column. “The flip side is the Chinese penetration of the African import market with cheap, often substandard, goods.”
“But Kenyans have also flocked to China for higher education and to source cheap goods for import. While Kenyans in China navigate the country wearily, the Chinese in Kenya strut around the country like colossi, as though they own Kenya,” Mutua noted. “Three recent cases of Chinese racism and intolerable arrogance come to mind. In the first, a Chinese restaurant refused service to blacks. Kenya can’t allow itself to be recolonised. It must take bold steps to repudiate the actions of the Chinese.”
Mutua calls for Kenya to begin its condemnation by “publicly and loudly expelling a good number of Chinese citizens.”