by Auburn Mann
As China braces for a potential resurgence in COVID-19 presence after more than a month of sustained flattening of infection rates, xenophobia has reared its ugly head.
President Ji Xiping issued a warning looking out for imported cases. In many cities and provinces Chinese officials have warned of a dreaded second wave as early signs have indicated maybe occurring in neighboring Japan.
This collective mood is particularly aimed at the African immigrant community, which already has shared a contentious relationship with the majority demographic of Chinese society even in relatively benign times.
In Guangzhou, where there are large concentrations from places like Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Uganda, especially in the Yuexiu and Baiyun areas, this has become especially acute. Many have shared stories through various social media platforms of being evicted from longtime homes, denied entry into shops, bars and restaurants, mistreatment on the streets, constant testing or arbitrarily being ordered to over-quarantine in their homes despite no record of recent travel.
One video shared of a McDonalds in the aforementioned city refusing to serve and denying entry from anyone appearing to be black or of African origin.
In addition, the video posted on twitter by the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (@nidcom_gov) of the Nigerian diplomat distributing food to evicted and roofless Nigerians in the Guangzhou rain.
This stems back to April 4th, when a Nigerian national tested positive for COVID-19 and violently attempted to exit an isolation ward at hospital. Then a few days later, five Nigerian men tested positive, causing further panic and resentment of this population.
According to The Washington Post, China restricted travel last month, banning all entry from foreigners and recently arrived travelers to isolate.
However, 28 people from the U.K. and 18 U.S. nationals also tested positive for COVID-19, yet there were no documented episodes of anyone from these demographics being forced to quarantine or even being evicted.
In fact, the majority of new cases seemed to be emanating from recently returned Chinese citizens from the West and Middle East.
“If this is about the virus, how come all foreigners aren’t being treated the same,” said local Guangzhou Nigerian community spokesperson Maximus Ogbonna to the Washington Post.
Ogbonna who himself, completed a 2-week quarantine in March after returning from Nigeria, was told he had to do it again on April 8th, despite testing negative weeks ago and not leaving China since.
Guangdong officials mandated COVID-19 testing with anyone with “African Contacts”, regardless of individual travel records.
This episode has evoked the appropriate backlash from numerous governments across the continent and the African Union as they expressed strong condemnation of the discriminatory treatment of Africans in China.
In particular, questioning the validity of these actions considering the virus began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and Nigeria and many African countries have, on average, reported a proportionally insignificant amount of cases.
“As a government, we will not allow Chinese or other nationals to be maltreated just as we will not allow Nigerians to be maltreated in other countries,” the speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila tweeted on April 10th.
Official statements out of Beijing did speak out against the overt anti-black policies in the Guangdong Province capital, stating, “We treat all foreigner equally and we reject discrimination.” Explaining away the behavior as being “motivated for concern of the life and health of foreign nationals in China.”
This situation has prompted countries with potential black travelers to the country, to plan accordingly. The U.S. consulate in Guangzhou has warned black Americans about travel to the Guangdong Province in the near future, and what to anticipate if they do.