African students and expatriates in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou underwent forced coronavirus testing and arbitrary 14-day self-quarantine last week, regardless of recent travel history, in the face of growing fear of imported infections.
With the virus reportedly found in China, concerns have grown over the past few weeks about a so-called second wave brought in by overseas travelers.
The fallout threatens to undermine China’s diplomatic efforts in Africa. In recent years, African nations have become Beijing’s major diplomatic and trading partners. According to official information from the Chinese customs authority, China’s trade with Africa was $ 208 billion in 2019.
In a statement released on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied that China had selected foreigners.
“We are still at great risk from imported cases and domestic resurgence. Especially as the pandemic spreads around the world, imported cases are putting increasing pressure,” said Zhao.
“All foreigners are treated equally. We reject different treatment and do not tolerate discrimination,” he added.
A breakdown in relationships
In recent days, however, African governments have been quick to ask Beijing to respond to their citizens.
During the exchange, Zhou is said to watch videos of Africans allegedly being abused in China. Oloye accompanied the video with the message that his government “would not tolerate abuse of Nigerians in China.”
The Chinese reaction
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to the crisis on Sunday, promising that the provincial authorities would “attach great importance” to the concerns of some African countries and work to improve quarantine measures, including providing special shelters to foreigners who have to undergo a medical observation.
However, based on city officials in Guangzhou, Zhao did not respond to certain allegations that the authorities would have imposed a mandatory check and 14-day quarantine policy on all Africans, even if they had not left China in recent months. had no contact with a known Covid 19 patient; had just completed 14 days of isolation; or had certificates to show that they were virus free.
Chinese state media had previously reported that five Nigerians tested in Guangzhou were positive for the virus.
Local police said on Sunday that all foreigners must strictly comply with Chinese law and those who refuse to identify themselves will be punished if the police ask them to do so. It is suspected that many Africans exceed their visas in Guangzhou, where officials said they have counted 4,553 Africans legally living in the city since last week.
In recent years, legions of Chinese diplomats have joined Twitter, a social media platform banned in China.
In Africa, CNN had at least 25 Chinese diplomatic or consulate accounts. But those Twitter accounts, which have repeatedly campaigned for China’s relief efforts in Africa in the past few weeks, have been particularly quiet about the African diaspora in Guangzhou.
According to Zhao’s statement on Sunday, many began tweeting his comments.
Lina Benabdallah, assistant professor of politics at Wake Forest University, specializing in relations between China and Africa, said that the “delicate” nature of the issue is a “coordinated response” as Chinese diplomats prevent a backlash against the more than 1 million Chinese people currently live in Africa.
“De-escalation in that sense is probably a priority,” she said. “It’s a sensitive thing.”
People to people relationships
By the end of the weekend, most of the displaced Africans in Guangzhou, mainly traders and students who make up China’s largest African population, had found protection, CNN said in the city.
Armies of volunteers who had gathered on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, had gathered to connect Africans to landlords and hotels that would still accept foreigners. Others had been rounded up by local authorities and quarantined in government-assigned hotels, such as Africans and volunteers who had spoken to CNN.
“They (the authorities) just don’t want them on the street,” said a volunteer who asked the government not to be named for fear of reprisals.
Shen Shiwei, a non-resident scholarship holder at Zhejiang Normal University’s Institute for African Studies, said that human relationships are a linchpin of China’s relationship with Africa and should be protected.
Shen called on Chinese officials to improve communication with the African diaspora in Guangzhou and suggested signs in English and the local language to explain policing decisions. “I think every story has two sides,” he said.
Hannah Ryder, a British-Kenyan citizen who previously worked for the United Nations in China and is now CEO of a Kenyan company in Beijing, said this type of incident could have a massive impact on how people in Africa see China. “If they are not treated properly, they can have far greater consequences than people sleeping on the streets. They can affect international relations, trade, and even diplomacy,” said Ryder.
“With China becoming the first country to recover from and recover from Covid-19, the world can learn a lot from China’s experience,” she said.
“I hope that China can take a leading role in combating xenophobia in addressing this issue and be a role model for the world to follow.”