China to ‘improve its working method’ when dealing with its ‘good African friends’

China, which appears to be over the worst of its outbreak, on Saturday held a national day of mourning for its dead -- well over 3,000 people (AFP Photo/LEO RAMIREZ)

The Asian nation where the viral outbreak began has faced criticism for its alleged discriminatory treatment of African nationals during the Covid-19 crisis.

In a statement on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to reports of anti-African racism in China in reaction to attempts by the Chinese authorities in Guangdong to continue to fight Covid-19.

Zhao said: “China and Africa are good friends, partners and brothers.”

He pointed out that after the Ebola epidemics broke out in three West African countries in 2014, the Chinese government provided assistance “at the earliest time possible and fought side by side with the African countries and people”.

South Africa, along with a number of other African countries, has expressed concern at the alleged ill-treatment and discrimination of African nationals in China, which allegedly involves them being targeted for forced testing and quarantining for Covid-19.

ALSO READ: Africans now targeted in China virus crackdown criticised for its racism

African ambassadors have written a letter of protest to the Chinese government, the Communist Party of China, the Human Rights Council in Geneva and to President Cyril Ramaphosa as chairperson of the African Union, voicing their unhappiness with anti-African actions in China.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation has also lambasted the allegations of discrimination, stigmatisation and other inhumane treatment of Africans in China.

Zhao, however, downplayed the matter on Sunday: “Now faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa are again tiding over difficulties hand in hand, and our friendship is again elevated.

“We will not forget the support from Africa during our most difficult times. While overcoming difficulties at home, we also give love and care to all African citizens in China, especially African students.

He pointed out that China has “urgently delivered batches of supplies to the continent”.

“Our assistance, conveying deep friendship for our African brothers and sisters, demonstrates our fine tradition of mutual assistance and mutual support, and has been highly acclaimed by African countries and the African Union.”

He said they had donated large amounts of test kits, masks, protective suits, goggles, face shields, forehead thermometers, medical-use gloves, shoe covers, ventilators and other supplies to the African Union and African countries.

“We will continue helping our African brothers to the best of our ability.”

Zhao did not deal with any of the specific allegations about the ill-treatment of Africans in Guangdong, other than to say that “specific plans and proper arrangements” had been made for foreigner patients in China.

ALSO READ: African leaders ask for explanation from China of alleged racism against Africans

“During our fight against the coronavirus, the Chinese government has been attaching great importance to the life and health of foreign nationals in China. All foreigners are treated equally. We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination.

“Since the outbreak, the authorities in Guangdong attach high importance to the treatment of foreign patients, including African nationals. Specific plans and proper arrangements are made to protect their life and health to the best of our ability, thanks to which we were able to save the lives of some African patients in severe or critical conditions.”

He did, however, say that the Guangdong authorities would try to “improve their working method”.

“The measures include: to provide health management services without differentiation, to designate hotels for the accommodation of foreigners required to undergo medical observation and adopt price adjustment for those in financial difficulties; to set up effective communication mechanism with foreign consulates-general in Guangzhou; and to reject all racist and discriminatory remarks.

“The Chinese people always see in the African people partners and brothers through thick and thin. China-Africa friendship is unbreakable as it is deeply rooted in this land. African friends can count on getting fair, just, cordial and friendly reception 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.

“The virus knows no borders. The pandemic, a challenge to all mankind, can only be defeated through concerted international efforts. With mutual understanding, mutual support and cooperation, we are ready to continue working with African friends to achieve the final victory.”

In their letter to Beijing, African ambassadors in Beijing had strongly protested the ongoing forceful testing, quarantine and maltreatment of Africans in China, particularly in Guangdong.

They said it was discrimination and stigmatisation to subject Africans to 14 days of quarantine even if they had not travelled outside their jurisdictions, had not come into contact with infected persons and showed no symptoms of Covid-19.

“The Group would like to underscore the fact that the Africans in China have at all times adhered to the laws of China, particularly within the period of this outbreak. We have not and cannot recall Chinese authorities reporting a case where our nationals have violated the anti-pandemic laws and regulations of the China government. Therefore, the singling out of Africans for compulsory testing and quarantine, in our view, has no scientific or logical basis and amounts to racism towards Africans in China,” the African ambassadors said.

Among the cases highlighted was an ejection Togolese, Nigerian, and Beninois nationals from their hotels in the middle of the night, allegedly only because they were Africans.

A group of African students studying at Sun-Yat Sen University in Guangzhou was made to undergo a nucleic acid test, in spite of the fact they had no travel history within the stated period.

The ambassadors also disapproved of the selective testing of African students while their non-African colleagues had been left out. Some African men married to Chinese women were forced to take the Covid-19 test and their Chinese families were left out.

In some cases, the men were taken from their families and quarantined in hotels alone.

Many Africans were forcefully evicted from their various apartments and thrown into the streets – even those with infant children – and some had their passports seized in violation of international practices and conventions.

The African envoys were concerned about what they called the “persistent harassment and humiliation” of African nationals by being subjected to “unwarranted medical examinations” after testing negative for Covid-19, and forced into quarantine, irrespective of their negative status.

They were also threatened with revocation of visas, arrest, detention and deportation for “no cogent reason”.

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