A spike in racial discrimination in China caused by fears of the Covid-19 pandemic has led some in the African diapora to reassess relations between the African continent and Beijing.
Over the past week, images have been posted on social media showing Africans in southern China’s city of Guangzhou, evicted from their apartments, denied access to hotels or restaurants, and forced to sleep in the street. These incidents apparently occurred as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the country, but led to a diplomatic crisis between Beijing and the African countries.
Images sparked outrage across Africa with the hashtag #chinamustexplain trends on Twitter and Chinese ambassadors summoned by furious officials in Nigeria and Ghana, to name a few. In mid-March, African ambassadors to China wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs about what they called the “stigma and discrimination” faced by their citizens.
Beijing initially chose to reject and deny the unfair treatment accounts.
“We have no discrimination in China against the African brothers,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday. He then accused the United States of trying to exploit the issue to undermine China’s relations with Africa. The statement came after a group of African ambassadors in Beijing expressed concern over numerous reports that Africans have been forced into quarantine or have been selected for examination by health officials.
The tone then seemed to soften, when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke on the phone with Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, Wang assuring Mahamat that steps were being taken to improve the situation of Africans in Guanghzou. Mahamat later described the relationship between China and Africa in a tweet as “strong and brotherly“It now appears that most of the displaced Africans in Guangzhou have found accommodation and that city officials are engaging in consultations with the African community as well as with academics to restore the relationship.
1/2: During a telephone call with the Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs #WangYi today he reassured me about the measures underway #Guangzhou improve the situation of Africans, in accordance with the strong and fraternal partnership between #Africa and #China.
– Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) April 13, 2020
Over the past 20 years, China has become an increasingly influential presence on the continent, as Africa’s natural resources have helped fuel the country’s rapid economic development. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the Chinese government and its banks and businesses lent some $ 143 billion to Africa between 2000 and 2017, often to finance large infrastructure projects. According to recent estimates, the number of Chinese citizens currently residing in Africa is one million, while 200,000 Africans live and work in China.
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But for some in the African diaspora, the events of the past week have marked a change in their vision of the Sino-African relationship. Nillah Nyakoa, a Kenyan citizen who has lived in China since 2009 and works for China Radio International, told FRANCE 24 that the events of the past few weeks could change her point of view on her host country while imbalances in the relationship are emerging. .
“I have called China at home for so many years, my story has always been to push a positive image of China because of my experiences. But when I see my African fellow citizens treated as second class citizens, obviously it makes me want to change my mind. “
“We give good treatment to the Chinese in Africa and it is not reciprocal,” she added.
For Samantha Sibanda, founder of the Appreciate Africa network, this discrimination has always been present. His organization has been trying to counter the negative perception of Africans in China since 2013 and organizes an annual Pride of Africa Asia award to promote the achievements of fellow Africans in China.
“People blow things out of proportion; this is nothing new to me,” she said. “This is what we go through every other day.” She cited the difficulties encountered by Africans in obtaining visas or guaranteeing equal pay, and said that these difficulties will persist even after the pandemic is over.
As for the recent incidents, she said that African governments – which have the responsibility to defend the interests of their citizens in China – and media coverage are both to blame.
“The Chinese are never shown that Africans are doing well in China,” said Sibanda.