China: Racism Against Africans ‘Isolated Incidents’ and ‘Misunderstandings’

Crackdown shakes Chinese city's 'Little Africa'
© AFP FRED DUFOUR

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its media organs lashed out Monday against African leaders for complaining about rampant racial discrimination against Africans living in Chinese cities, dismissing their complaints as a few “isolated incidents” and “misunderstandings.”

African ambassadors wrote a letter to the Chinese Foreign Ministry over the weekend to complain about “stigmatization and discrimination” against Africans living in China, especially in the city of Guangzhou.

“The Group of African Ambassadors in Beijing immediately demands the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans,” the letter said.

Several of the signatory countries summoned their Chinese ambassadors to confront them with documented complaints of discrimination from Africans living in China. These complaints included “being evicted from their apartments by their landlords, being tested for coronavirus several times without being given results, and being shunned and discriminated against in public,” as Al Jazeera summarized them on Sunday.

Other stories of discrimination included Africans denied service at Chinese restaurants and hotels, and even some students who said they were forced to live on the streets. One video clip circulating online purportedly depicts a written notice instructing Guangzhou restaurants not to admit African customers.

Al Jazeera reporters said there was “anger and disbelief” among African officials, who feared a “backlash against Chinese workers working on the African continent” might be coming.

This poor treatment of Africans appears to be motivated by the Chinese government’s insistence that it has virtually eliminated local transmissions of the Wuhan coronavirus, so all new infections are part of a “second wave” brought to China by foreigners. The CCP, which worked hard to undermine travel bans around the world a few months ago, has imposed strict limits on foreign travelers to keep this alleged “second wave” under control.

AFP speculated some of the anti-African hysteria was driven by a cluster of coronavirus cases among Nigerians living in the “Little Africa” district of Guangzhou. The Nigerians were publicly criticized for breaking quarantine procedures and requiring thousands of people they came in contact with to be tested for the virus.

Several Africans confirmed to AFP that they have been evicted from their homes, placed under arbitrary quarantine orders, or subjected to repeated mandatory testing even though they have not traveled outside of China during the pandemic. 

“All the people I’ve seen tested are Africans. Chinese are walking around freely but if you’re black you can’t go out,” said an African student who was ordered to self-quarantine by the Guangzhou police even though he tested negative for the Wuhan virus. 

“The infections in Guangzhou have sparked a torrent of abuse online, with many Chinese internet users posting racist comments and calling for all Africans to be deported. Last week a controversial cartoon depicting foreigners as different types of trash to be sorted through went viral on social media,” AFP reported.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted his government “treats all foreigners in China equally,” dismissing reports to the contrary as a few “misunderstandings.”

China’s state-run Global Times ran with that party line on Monday, with the characteristic CCP touch of howling that Americans are in no position to criticize China for its treatment of Africans because there is so much racism in the United States.

The Global Times accused Western media of overhyping a few “unpleasant incidents” in Guangzhou, then tried to cover the Communist Party’s backside by accusing the city’s African community of being uncooperative and prone to violence:

Reports of alleged forced testing, quarantine and maltreatment of African nationals in China, particularly in Guangzhou, South China’s Guangdong Province, have been maliciously hyped that Africans residing in China are facing discrimination. African countries and their nationals in China need not panic or overact to such reports that have been exaggerated by certain forces in the US to sow discord between African countries and China during the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese people have been victimized by racism since the start of the global health crisis, and the last thing they would do is treat others in that manner.

However, there have been some unpleasant incidents. According to Guangzhou police, a Nigerian COVID-19 patient attacked a Chinese nurse who tried to stop him from leaving an isolation ward at a local hospital on April 1. Some African residents have also complained that they were subject to compulsory 14-day quarantine and tested for coronavirus several times. 

China’s strict prevention and control measures against imported cases of COVID-19 do not target any nationality or race. Facing mounting pressure to curb imported infections, China has scaled up preventative measures. Travelers from all countries must undergo a 14-day compulsory quarantine and receive tests. Control measures in northeast China are even stricter as the region is dealing with more imported cases coming from Russia.

Africans account for a large share of the foreigners now living in Guangzhou. As of Saturday, of the 119 confirmed cases that were brought to Guangzhou by international travelers, 19 were from African countries. Like all travelers coming to China and foreign residents, African nationals in China must comply with China’s tough measures to contain the coronavirus. 

How is it that China has successfully brought the epidemic under control in two months while the US and many European countries have been mired in the pandemic for weeks still with no sign of reaching a peak? China has decisively enforced sweeping quarantine measures across the country from the onset and the Chinese people have been cooperative toward these measures, sacrificing their freedom of movement and bearing inconveniences in order to achieve a quick end to the outbreak. 

Oddly, the Global Times forgot to mention the other key ingredient in China’s miraculous coronavirus response: lying about how many cases you have, and how many people were killed by the disease. These obfuscation techniques will be unlikely to work if large numbers of Africans living in China suddenly stop writing home to their families.

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