The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in China led to a surge in discrimination against its diaspora, but now Africans are facing the same treatment in the East Asian nation.

A series of videos revealing African migrants forcefully evicted from their homes and refused entry into hotels have made the rounds on social media, triggering outrage from several African governments who have called on Beijing to provide an explanation.

Anti-African sentiment surged after five Nigerians in the southern city of Guangzhou were tested positive for the virus. State media reported that the individuals broke quarantine and visited a restaurant where the owner and his daughter were infected. Ever since, African migrants have been unable to eat or stay in their homes.

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry responded to the allegations of discrimination by denying reports of Africans being singled out. However, statistics have shown that foreigners from Britain, America and the Philippines make up a significant population of those who have the virus in Guangzhou but have not been subjected to the same abuse.

Another picture circulating on social media showed a sign outside of a McDonalds restaurant in the area. The sign read that Black people were not allowed to enter the restaurant.

McDonalds have since released a statement announcing that the sign is “not representative of our inclusive values”, it has now been removed and the restaurant temporarily closed.

Other harrowing stories have reached the mainstream with some reports saying that Africans are being subjected to mandatory testing and a 14-day quarantine – even if they had not left the country for months.

With a rise of imported cases indicating a possible second wave of the virus, critics say that China has included xenophobic practices as a means of combat.

Africans in Guangzhou

Since the 1990s, African businesspeople and traders predominately from West Africa travelled to Guangzhou for increased opportunities. Many only stayed for a short period while others became long-term residents. However, the population has declined over time as it became harder for Africans to acquire permanent residency in the country. Yet, the community is still the largest African migrant population in Asia and has even been dubbed ‘Little Africa’.

China-Africa Relations

Since the turn of the century, China has increased its influence in Africa becoming the continent’s largest trading partner. China has helped build roads, loaned a substantial amount to many countries and helped boost foreign direct investment. In fact, in 2019 it was reported that China’s trade in Africa was worth $208 billion.

However, this relationship now comes under threat as China struggles to put a lid on the rising discrimination in Guangzhou. While, unfortunately, Africans are no strangers to racism and xenophobia in the country, the scale of the current situation threatens to put a dent in China-Africa diplomacy. With several African countries expressing their disappointment and anger at the abuse experienced by their citizens, China will have to work hard on rectifying the damage done if it hopes to preserve its lucrative and fruitful relationship with Africa.  

Photo credit: France24

Aisha Mohamed