Beijing faces diplomatic crisis after alleged mistreatment of Africans in China
Beijing is facing a diplomatic crisis in Africa after reports of alleged coronavirus-related discrimination against African nationals in China sparked widespread anger across the continent.
African students and expatriates in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou were last week subject to forced coronavirus testing and arbitrary 14-day self-quarantine, regardless of recent travel history, amid heightened fears of imported infections.
Large numbers of African nationals were also left homeless, after being evicted by landlords and rejected by hotels in the city.
Having reportedly contained the virus within China, concerns have grown in recent weeks over a so-called second wave, brought into the country by overseas travelers.
In Africa, however, governments, media outlets and citizens reacted angrily to the apparent rise in anti-foreigner sentiment, as videos of Africans being harassed by police, sleeping on the streets or being locked into their homes under quarantine circulated online.
On Saturday, the front page of Kenya’s biggest newspaper lead with the headline, “Kenyans in China: Rescue us from hell,” as a member of the country’s parliament called for Chinese nationals to leave Kenya immediately. TV stations in Uganda, South Africa and Nigeria also ran stories on the alleged mistreatment.
The fallout threatens to undermine China’s diplomatic efforts in Africa. In recent years, African nations have become key diplomatic and trade partners to Beijing, with China’s trade with Africa worth $208 billion in 2019, according to official figures from China’s General Administration of Customs.
In a statement released Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied China had been singling out foreigners.
“We are still facing great risks of imported cases and domestic resurgence. Particularly, as the pandemic spreads all over the world, imported cases are causing mounting pressure,” said Zhao.
“All foreigners are treated equally. We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination,” he added.