China criticized for alleged African coronavirus discrimination

Linda J. Dodson

GUANGZHOU — China is facing heated criticism amid allegations of mistreatment of Africans in the country over the novel coronavirus.

Rumors of Africans spreading the virus have circulated and led to discrimination in which nationals from the continent are said to have been put in quarantine — whether they are infected or not — with some being evicted from their homes.

“There are no Africans here. They have all been taken to hotels to be isolated,” said a guard taking people’s temperature in the southern city of Guangzhou, which has a sizable African community.

According to the local government, there are about 5,000 Africans who live in the commercial hub, but there were no African people in sight when a Nikkei reporter visited on Monday.

The alleged roundup began at the beginning of April after five Nigerians living in the city tested positive for the coronavirus. A worker at a restaurant they visited had also been infected.

The internet erupted with rumors that “more than a thousand Africans have been infected,” which prompted many eateries to refuse service.

Reports of mistreatment have led to the government of Nigeria and the African Union to summon their respective Chinese ambassadors, to express concerns and demand that Beijing address any harassment.

The U.S. has also exerted pressure.

On Monday, State Department officials slammed China for being xenophobic, while spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted, “Chinese authorities must stop this abuse of Africans living and studying in China.”

China has dismissed the allegations. “We do not have discrimination in China against African brothers,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily news briefing on Monday.

The backlash could hinder China’s relationship with Africa, which has deepened in recent years as Beijing accelerates its Belt and Road Initiative, a massive, multi-continent infrastructure project. Trade has also been increasing, with China’s exchange with Africa growing to around $210 billion in 2019, four times the total in 2016.

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