It’s a diplomatic crisis! It’s a PR disaster! It’s a threat to Africa-China relations!
Amidst the backlash from several ambassadors and citizens of African countries, China rushes to make amends. In Kenya #deportracistchinese
was trending and in Nigeria, the internet is rife with angry comments and Nigerian Senator @dinomelaye lends a strong voice to equal rights.
On April 12th, the Chinese Ministry of foreign affairs announced it would adjust its coronavirus restrictions on Africans, and opposed any differentiated practices targeting specific groups of people or racist and discriminatory speech. While Mr Zhao Lijian added "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to work closely with and respond to the legitimate concerns and demands of the African side." Several Chinese officials have tweeted about ‘zero tolerance for racial discrimination’ and Weibo (Chinese twitter) reportedly closed 180 accounts for inciting discrimination.
With over 4,553 Africans living in Guangzhou, 200,000 Chinese nationals in Africa and China's General Administration Of Customs reporting Sino African trade at $208 billion there are also diplomatic ties to be considered.
So how could this still happen? According to Ms Huangwei Li of SOAS University, the central Chinese governments wants to avoid a second wave of Covid-19 infections, but there is a gap between the central government controlling foreign policy and local agencies enforcing immigration both prioritise different agendas. So when local governments make decisions in a crisis, they won’t prioritise national and diplomatic interests until they are pressured from the “Ogas at the top”.
Insufficient effort has been made to educate the Chinese public against racism, or to emphasise the importance of political correctness. Should this be an excuse? No! China is in the big leagues now they must be ready to act responsibly.
With Chinese locals fearing reinfection from outside China, foreigners in China feel uneasy. However the real question remains why Africans? Why Guangzhou? Is the Chinese government doing enough? What’s next for the Nigerian Government?