By Renny Simone
A group of African ambassadors in Beijing have written a letter to the Chinese foreign minister, urging the government to take action on xenophobia against African immigrants in China.
The open letter from the ambassadors demands “the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments” used against Africans. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was copied on the letter, according to Reuters.
The ambassadors list several allegations of xenophobic practices, including unlawful evictions, forcible testing and quarantining, and acts of public discrimination against people of African origin.
Most reports have come from Guangzhou, a coastal city in Guangdong province, where a sizable population of West African immigrants has settled in an area now known as “Little Africa”.
“People are not happy”, Maximus Ogbonna, a Nigerian community leader in Guangzhou, told The Washington Post. Ogbonna is in his second forced quarantine after returning from Nigeria, despite having tested negative for coronavirus.
Other reports of discrimination have been shared on social media.
SupChina described a Chinese-language cartoon published to WeChat with the title, “An illustrated handbook on how to sort foreign trash”. The cartoon targeted ‘foreigners’, especially Africans, for allegedly flouting quarantine guidelines.
And a twitter video, apparently showing a discriminatory notice posted in a Guangzhou McDonald’s, has prompted an apology from the company, according to the BBC. The notice read, in part, “from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant”.
The international community has responded swiftly to the allegations.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also released a statement condemning discrimination against African nationals living in China.
“The foreign ministry will stay in close communication with the Guangdong authorities and continue responding to the African side’s reasonable concerns and legitimate appeals,” said the statement
Outside of China, instances of xenophobia, ranging from racist TikTok videos to US President Donald Trump’s controversial use of the term “Chinese virus”, have been widely documented. There have also been reports of coronavirus-related deportations of undocumented immigrants from the US, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Some commentators are highlighting the political implications of these developments. Mills Soko and Mzukisi Qobo, professors at Wits Business School, have suggested that the reports coming out of Guangzhou may affect China’s influence in Africa.
“They could … fuel a backlash against China and Chinese interests on the continent,” Soko and Qobo wrote in Daily Maverick.
China is expected to decide soon on debt relief for African countries, many of which are asking creditors to freeze or cancel loan payments in light of the economic recession. According to Reuters, China is the largest creditor operating in Africa, where it has extensive commercial interests.