China has said it will adjust its coronavirus restrictions on African nationals in the southern province of Guangdong after an alleged xenophobic campaign that has triggered a diplomatic row.
Chen Xiaodong, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, assured more than 20 ambassadors from African nations in a meeting on Monday that the Guangdong authorities were “improving measures and would gradually lift health management [restrictions] over African nationals except those who were infected, their close contacts and suspected cases”, according to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs late on Monday.
The move was based on “a principle of no discrimination”, Chen said, adding that a communication mechanism would be established with African nations’ consulates in Guangzhou, the provincial capital of Guangdong.
The meeting came at a time when tensions between China and African nations have been heightened amid growing complaints that African citizens faced racial discrimination and “inhumane treatment” in Guangzhou, where it has been reported that Africans were being targeted after five Nigerians with links to the same restaurant tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
A video circulated online at the weekend showed that a McDonald’s restaurant in Guangzhou had displayed a notice stating in English that “black people are not allowed to enter”. The video was soon removed and McDonald’s has said that the outlet was closed for half a day for staff education.
The complaints have triggered anger from African governments and become an embarrassment for China, which has been seeking to strengthen ties with African countries. Africa is the site of many projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s transcontinental investment and infrastructure strategy.
In a letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ambassadors from African nations said although they appreciated the good relationship between China and Africa, “stigmatisation and discrimination” had created the false impression that the virus was being spread by Africans.
“The Group of African Ambassadors in Beijing immediately demands the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans,” it said.