Nigerian Foreign Minister: Chinese Racism ‘Unacceptable,’ ‘Very Disturbing’

Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama gestures as he speaks during the Nigeria-United States Bi-National Commission meeting in Abuja, on November 20, 2017. The US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan led interagency US delegation to a meeting of Nigeria and the United States Bi-National Commission in Abuja. / AFP …
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told reporters on Tuesday following a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to the country, Zhou Pingjian, that reports of Chinese businesses banning black people and landlords evicting them over Chinese coronavirus fears were “unacceptable.”

Onyeama condemned local officials in Guangzhou, the southern Chinese city where the discrimination was documented, for not cooperating with African governments if they did intend to isolate coronavirus patients and curb the spread of the virus in good faith.

Chinese state media interpreted Onyeama’s press conference as praise for the Communist Party of Beijing, asserting that he said “no evidence” of state-sponsored racism exists.

“There were videos circulating on social media of very disturbing scenes and incidents involving Nigerians in the city of Guangzhou,” Onyeama told reporters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, calling the reports “unacceptable,” according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). “We saw images of Nigerians in the streets with their possessions and this was of course extremely distressing for us at home.”

Onyeama claimed he told Zhou that evidence of Chinese businesses placing signs outside their doors stating they would not serve African people was “something that we couldn’t accept.” He said Zhou replied by asserting that China has “zero tolerance for any discrimination and racism” and blamed local Communist Party officials in Guangzhou, not senior officials in Beijing, for the racist assaults.

“It’s unfortunate that the government in Guangzhou did not reach out early enough to our authorities in Guangzhou and Shanghai and Beijing, but now that communication has been established,” Onyeama said.

Onyeama noted that Zhou claimed that some Nigerians in Guangzhou had tested positive for the Chinese coronavirus, which resulted in Chinese officials attempting to isolate Nigerian nationals who came into contact with the patients.

Chinese government network CGTN reported Onyeama’s statements as saying that there was “no evidence of discrimination.”

“Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has said an investigation into alleged mistreatment of Nigerian people in southern China’s Guangzhou found no evidence of discrimination,” CGTN said. As Chinese state media typically do, CGTN provided no quotes directly from the top diplomat.

The Global Times, often China’s most belligerent English-language propaganda outlet, dismissed reports of racism against black people in Guangzhou as “rumors” and claimed that Onyeama had only condemned “viral videos,” not real discrimination against Nigerian citizens.

“People under mandatory quarantine were not allowed to return their homes or hotels, but some media incorrectly interpreted the issue based solely on videos on social media platforms, alleging that Nigerians, and African people in general, were being discriminated against during Guangzhou’s anti-epidemic battle,” the Global Times claimed.

“There is nothing wrong in Guangzhou applying strict anti-epidemic policies based on the experience of Wuhan, but officials from the embassy also admitted that Guangzhou authorities needed to improve their communication while implementing the policies, according to Onyeama,” the newspaper reported, again not quoting Onyeama directly.

The only incident of racism the Global Times confirmed in Guangzhou concerned an American company: McDonald’s.

“McDonald’s temporarily closed one of its restaurants in Guangzhou after reports that it had put up a notice barring Africans from entering. The company also apologized for the notice, according to a BBC report on Tuesday,” the outlet noted.

McDonald’s is a franchise-based organization, meaning Chinese nationals run the restaurants in China. McDonald’s indeed apologized for its Chinese-run restaurant banning black customers and mandated “diversity training” for them. There is no evidence any American McDonald’s employee was involved in the racism ban.

“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,” a McDonald’s Corporation spokesman told the Hong Kong Free Press on Monday.

The Chinese Communist Party has not directly addressed the evidence of widespread racism in Guangzhou, a southern port city near Hong Kong. Instead, it has dismissed the evidence as “viral videos.” Throughout the past week, Nigerians, Ghanans, and other Africans in the city have complained of extreme racism against themselves, including being evicted from their homes abruptly, being banned from restaurants and other businesses, and banned from hotels. Those left without their apartments and no access to hotels, despite possessing the money to pay for them, have been sleeping on the street, multiple reports confirmed.

All businesses in China are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

Other complaints from Africans in Guangzhou concern Party officials. Many have objected to being forced to undergo coronavirus testing on a seemingly arbitrary basis, then quarantined without being told the results of the exam. Others have said they have been banned from being outside entirely, even when alone, and even when told they tested negative for the Wuhan virus.

“I’ve been sleeping under the bridge for four days with no food to eat … I cannot buy food anywhere, no shops or restaurants will serve me,” Tony Mathias, an Ugandan student, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “We’re like beggars on the street.”

Yet other reports indicate that some landlords are not banning African tenants, but demanding twice the rent they would to Han Chinese people. These reports have surfaced in international outlets like AFP but also generated publicity in the home countries of those affected, surfacing in several major African newspapers.

In addition to Onyeama, other African officials have demanded an explanation.

Ghana, for example, summoned its Chinese ambassador in protest.

“I have been briefed on the inhumane treatment being meted out to Ghanaian and other African nations in the People’s Republic of China with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak. I regret and highly condemn this act of ill-treatment and racial discrimination,” Ghanan Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said in a statement this week. “I have therefore summoned the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana She Ting Wang to register my disappointment and call for his government to immediately address the situation and bring their officials to order.”

In Kenya, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau told reporters the country had concrete evidenced of discrimination by Chinese officials trying to “mop up the situation that they are facing.”

“Sadly, they have discriminated against and targeted various foreigners in their response. The African Union has responded collectively in consultation with us,” Kamau said.

Chinese media have dismissed evidence of racism in Guangzhou as “isolated incidents” and “misunderstandings.”

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