• Foreign ministry pledges improved measures after ambassadors demand end to ‘inhuman treatments meted out to Africans’
• It follows tensions in Guangzhou, where McDonald’s restaurant also displayed a notice saying ‘black people are not allowed to enter’
China has said it will adjust its coronavirus restrictions on African nationals in the southern province of Guangdong after an alleged xenophobic campaign that has triggered a diplomatic row.
Chen Xiaodong, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, assured more than 20 ambassadors from African nations in a meeting on Monday that the Guangdong authorities were “improving measures and would gradually lift health management [restrictions] over African nationals except those who were infected, their close contacts and suspected cases”, according to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs late on Monday.
The move was based on “a principle of no discrimination”, Chen said, adding that a communication mechanism would be established with African nations’ consulates in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong.
The meeting came at a time when tensions between China and African nations have been heightened amid growing complaints that African citizens faced racial discrimination and inhumane treatment in Guangzhou, where it has been reported that Africans were being targeted after five Nigerians with links to the same restaurant tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
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A video circulated online at the weekend showed that a McDonald’s restaurant in Guangzhou had displayed a notice stating in English that “black people are not allowed to enter”. The video was soon removed and McDonald’s has said that the outlet was closed for half a day for staff education.
The complaints have triggered anger from African governments and become an embarrassment for China, which has been seeking to strengthen ties with African countries. Africa is the site of many projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s transcontinental investment and infrastructure strategy. In a letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ambassadors from African nations said although they appreciated the good relationship between China and Africa, “stigmatisation and discrimination” had created the false impression that the virus was being spread by Africans. “The Group of African Ambassadors in Beijing immediately demands the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans,” it said.
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According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Chen told ambassadors from African nations that in the face of the coronavirus China and Africa should “strengthen unity more than at any other time”, and pledged that China would provide all it could to support the battle against the pandemic in Africa “until the final victory”. Representatives from African ambassadors responded by saying that they would work together with China to guide their citizens to follow Chinese laws. On Monday, Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission – the union’s executive arm – had a telephone call with Wang in which, according to Mahamat’s posts on Twitter, Wang reassured him “of measures under way in Guangzhou to improve the situation of Africans, in line with the strong and brotherly partnership between Africa and China”. Guangzhou, traditionally a trading and garment industry hub, has more than 30,000 foreign residents, including 4,554 from Africa, the municipal government said in a briefing on Sunday. Fears of a secondary coronavirus outbreak in China, fuelled by a growing number of imported infections, have risen in recent weeks.
However, the testing of more than 4,600 people from “high-risk” countries, after five Nigerians linked to a Guangzhou restaurant tested positive, exacerbated tensions between local people and the expat community in the city and across the country.
On Saturday, the US consulate in Guangzhou issued an alert warning that African-Americans should refrain from travelling to the city
because people who appeared to be of African origin, and others suspected of having “African contacts”, were subjected to mandatory tests followed by mandatory quarantine, regardless of their recent travel history.