China-Africa relations face an ‘unprecedented rupture’ - SupChina
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China-Africa relations face an ‘unprecedented rupture’

africa 1

SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng, based on an image of evicted Africans sleeping on the streets of Guangzhou, one of many images and videos that have gone viral on African social media since April 9.

African migrants in Guangzhou have in recent weeks faced a “rising tide of discrimination driven by both coronavirus-fueled xenophobia and deep-rooted prejudice against black people in China,” SupChina’s Jiayun Feng reported last Wednesday.

Then, the evictions started. Eric Olander at the China Africa Project writes that the recent treatment of Africans in Guangzhou has led to an “unprecedented rupture” in China-Africa relations over the weekend.

Beginning late Thursday China time, photos, videos, and other accounts began to surface on Twitter and Facebook depicting young African migrants being forced to leave their homes and hotels. These evictions largely took place in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu district…home to the largest African diaspora populations in China, and Asia at large.

A key turning point occurred on Friday, when photos of young men forced to sleep outside on the street, visibly cold and wearing surgical masks to protect them from COVID-19, started going viral on Facebook and Twitter.

The reaction in Africa was immediate and furious. African social media users took to Twitter under the hashtag #ChinaMustExplain to vent their anger, frustration and concern. Sensing the severity of the crisis and the surging outrage, African politicians began to call in Chinese ambassadors to their foreign ministries to express their concern.

A few examples: The Chairperson of the African Union Commission expressed his “extreme concern at allegations of maltreatment of Africans in Guangzhou,” and the Nigerian Foreign Minister tweeted almost the exact same thing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ghana wrote to “highly condemn this act of ill-treatment and racial discrimination.”

There was also “an unprecedented video of China’s ambassador to Nigeria, Zhōu Píngjiàn 周平剑, being dressed down by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila,” Olander notes.

Beijing reacted slowly, with foreign ministry spokesperson Zhào Lìjiān 赵立坚 saying only on April 9 that “we treat all foreign nationals equally in China,” and then completely avoiding the topic for the next two days. On Sunday, April 12, CGTN Africa published “Foreign Ministry spokesperson remarks on Guangdong’s anti-epidemic measures concerning African citizens in China,” which contains a series of stock phrases that Chinese diplomats across Africa are now repeating.

Beijing’s official remarks contain no apology, or even “any hint of acknowledgment that something has gone wrong,” Olander writes. “Without an apology or some other expression of regret from Chinese officials, African presidents and prime ministers will find it very difficult to simply move on to other issues like debt relief and cooperation with China on COVID-19 prevention.”

Instead, Beijing is blaming the U.S. for “false, immoral, and irresponsible” accusations of mistreatment of Africans in China, and accusing the U.S. of “driving the wedge between China & Africa.”

More details on what is happening in Guangzhou can be found in these reports:

—Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

2 Comments

  1. Michael Sacharski Reply

    China-Africa Relations Face An ‘Unprecedented Rupture’ THE EDITORS APRIL 13, 2020

    The China – Africa ‘Unprecedented Rupture’ already occurred…..January / February 1989. In January, 1989 four African male students attempted to enter a university campus dance in Nanjing with four Chinese dates. They were denied entry at the door. An argument ensued that turned into a riot. The four African students fled the campus chased by an angry mob of Chinese students threatening to lynch them. The four barricaded themselves inside an abandoned railroad shed where they were under siege the next three days. Anti-African riots quickly spread to other campuses across China. Police and security personnel blocked charging students from overwhelming barricaded Africans but did not break up the mobs. Two weeks after the initial riot in Nanjing African governments worked out an agreement with China to allow all African students to immediately leave China. They did. By the end of February, there was not a single African student left on a China campus. In 1994, African students began returning in small numbers. A year later, a larger presence was evident. One of the chroniclers of these events was the future actress Mira Sorvino, Mandarin fluent, who was in Beijing at the time working on her Harvard senior thesis, “Anti-Africanism in China: An Investigation into Chinese Attitudes Towards Black Students in the PRC”. Three months later Chinese students erected the ‘Goddess of Democracy” in Tiananmen Square.

  2. Calvin Antonio Reply

    We Jamaican of African descent will never forgive the INTERNATIONAL LEPER CHINA for what you have done to our brothers and sisters in China. You are worst than a dog. Be strong we African shall overcome God is on our side.

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