A widely reported mistreatment of Africans in China, as indicated by, among other evidence pieces, recent video releases in the social media, is most unacceptable. It must stop forthwith.
The recent incident in Guangzhou that prompted a Nigerian diplomat to vent justified anger upon some Chinese officials for seizing the passports of a number of Nigerian citizens and subjecting them to extended days of quarantine for no justifiable reason, is one of several reported cases of hostile acts that hinge on racism against Africans generally. Nigerians have been evicted from their homes and hotels, and forced thereby to sleep on the street. Africans have been beaten by Chinese mobs for whatever reason instead of taking them to the police. Africans have been shown being denied entry into Chinese shops. In a crude display of lawlessness, the social media have exposed Chinese officials raising batons while demanding documents from Africans. Curiously, none of these maltreatments have been reported for investigations and prosecution by the Chinese authorities. But these are clear pieces of evidence that not a few Chinese bear a hostile attitude toward Africans. Mercifully, there is yet no incontrovertible evidence that this prevails among the generality of the Chinese people. If it were so, it would be a terrible shame and a grave cause for concern to Africa.
The Chinese have laboured hard to present these reports as exaggerated. Tristan Cui who heads the China Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria is reported as saying that the government of China has “zero tolerance for racism” and “we condemn any manner of maltreatment of Nigerians and other foreigners in China”. Even Nigeria that should be aggrieved was initially apologetic on behalf of the ‘accused’. The intolerably weak excuse offered by Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama was that the mistreatment of Nigerians and the attendant strong response to it by a Nigerian embassy official as glaringly captured on video was due to “poor communication”. He even advised his fellow Nigerians who were appalled to be objective in assessing such incidents –as if Nigerians were hasty in their reaction to so obvious an appalling incident. But later, wiser counsel prevailed and this minister felt the need to speak up for his country and his countrymen. “We are extremely disappointed with the treatment meted out to our people because we have good relations with the government and people of China” he said, somewhat meekly.
Nonetheless, there can be no doubt about the gravity of the latest acts of anti-African hostility such that they have sufficiently provoked African diplomats to protest in writing to their host government. The strongly- worded letter urged the government to properly and promptly resolve the issue promptly or the envoys would have to “communicate to our home country the racial bias and discrimination against Africans in China”, “bring the issue to the attention of the international community …” and even “retaliate the same ill-treatment meted out to our nationals to … Chinese nationals in our various countries ; close all our African consulates in Guangzhou until further notice and engage in general street protest by the African Consulates –General and nationals”. Former African Union ambassador to the United States, Arikana Chihombori Quao, also fired to President Xi Jinping of China an open letter on behalf of the Africa Diaspora Development Institute (ADDI) in which she detailed many incidences of mistreatment of Africans by Chinese officials and ordinary citizens. The letter noted that, “the abuse of Africans in China is tantamount to racism, discrimination, and a serious violation of human rights”, and demanded “immediate reciprocity” of the respect and cordiality with which Chinese are treated in Africa.
It is trite to say that Africa-China friendly and mutually supportive relations date as far back as the founding of the Peoples Republic in 1949. And even in the years after the Chinese Revolution when the country was struggling to rebuild, reconstruct and redirect, it still found, in its generosity, resources to support infrastructure development in various parts of Africa. Besides, Africa and China have supported mutually beneficial causes at international forums especially in cases where big power politics comes into play. Over the years, Africa-China cooperation has grown exponentially especially on the economic front such that there is now, a standing Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that implements decisions of the heads of state of the cooperating countries. Item 6.1.9 of the Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021) of FOCAC states that, “China and Africa attach great importance to the protection of the safety of nationals and institutions from each respective country, and will enhance cooperation with China in this regard”. Evidently, China is failing in this respect and if it does not make amends, the optimistically touted “interests of Chinese and African people to build a community with a shared future for mankind…” in item 7, will not be attained.
Against the backdrop of these noble examples of cooperation, it is regrettable that China would allow serial disgraceful acts by a fraction of its nationals. By allowing these irresponsible acts against foreign nationals within its jurisdiction, China violates firstly, relevant provisions of its own constitution, and secondly, as a leading member of the United Nations and its organs, a number of relevant international covenants and laws.
Article 32 (Rights of Foreigners) (1) of The Constitution Law of the People’s Republic of China states that “the People’s Republic of China protects the lawful rights and interests of foreigners within Chinese territory, and while on Chinese territory, foreigners must abide by the law of the People’s Republic of China”. Further, Article 33 (3) states that, “the State respects and preserves human rights” by which can be reasonably assumed those basic rights granted to every man everywhere under the UN Charter of Human Rights, which China accepted as far back as 1971. The PRC is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. China is also obligated under Article 2 of the latter covenant to “respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, the rights recognized by the Covenant without distinction of any kind such as …national or social origin…”
Furthermore, a consensual declaration on the rights of foreigners by the UN General Assembly in 1985 provides for respect for the fundamental rights of aliens including the rights to privacy and equality treatment before the courts and tribunals. The overarching Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates in Article 2 that, “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…. including national and social origin…” These are enough bases upon which China is accountable for being intolerably derelict in its moral and legal obligations to foreign nationals within its jurisdiction.
Lest we forget, a recent exhibition of visual arts in China was replete with designs that present black Africans in comparison with animals of various types. Besides that this was no art as understood by decent values and universal standards of creativity, we should think that exhibition was disrespectful and despicable.
Even inside Africa, there have been repeated cases of Chinese treating their African employees with dehumanising corporal punishment. There have been reports of discrimination against African patrons of Chinese restaurants. We strongly condemn these. Such irresponsible and ungrateful behaviour must stop forthwith. However, we hold the governments and leaders of African countries fully responsible for a terrible betrayal of their oaths of office and the dignity of their own people.
In the main, we share without reservation the strong sentiments of respected Africanist, Arikana Chihombori Quao, The Guardian 2019 ‘Person of the Year ‘that in as much as President Jinping “would not tolerate harassment, intimidation, and inhumane treatment of Chinese diaspora living in Africa”, “Chinese citizens must treat Africans in China in the same way that they would want their citizens treated in Africa”.
All told, only an Africa-China cooperation based on mutual respect and the principle of reciprocity can strengthen global peace and prosperity. But Africans should not be held responsible if such a worthy purpose flounders on the rocks of disdain and mistreatment of Africans by Chinese citizens. Respect begets respect.