Posted on May 4, 2020

China’s Guangdong Province Unveils New Anti-Discrimination Measures After Widespread Reports of Racism Against Africans

Keegan Elmer, South China Morning Post, May 3, 2020

Guangdong province has announced new measures to stop discrimination against foreigners after consistent reports of racism against African people sparked an international incident.

The measures, introduced on Saturday, are the latest attempt to make amends with the African community following reports that Africans were being forcibly quarantined, kicked out of their homes and denied service in shops and hotels under the guise of controlling the spread of Covid-19.

McDonald’s in China was forced to apologise last month after a store in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, posted signs prohibiting black people from entering.

On Saturday provincial officials in Guangdong called on representatives of industry to “resolutely oppose racism”, at a meeting between African diplomats and local business representatives.

The local government said service providers in the province were not allowed to treat Chinese and foreigners differently, or discriminate based on nationality, race, gender or skin colour, according to a report on the meeting by state media published on Sunday.

The measures told landlords that they could not adjust the terms of a rental agreement, or withhold renters’ deposits.

Taxi and bus drivers were warned that those refusing rides to customers would be investigated and punished.

Media reports on the meeting did not detail specific punishments for wrongdoers.

The reports also said the government had set up a 24-hour hotline for foreigners to report discrimination, though the number was not published in the report.

The measures also laid out new options for foreigners having trouble with the health app system that allows people to enter public areas.

Local regulations require residents to register their health status with an app and scan a code before entering parks, restaurants and public transport.

The measures said foreigners who had trouble using the app could now enter public areas if they had no fever and could provide one of three forms of documentation: a negative result of a nucleic acid test for Covid-19 performed in the last seven days, a notice of release from medical isolation within the last seven days, or the presentation of a valid form of identification and registration of personal information.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the restaurant, hotel and transport industries and African diplomats, including representatives from Mali, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal. The representatives thanked the provincial authorities, according to the reports.

China’s relations with several African countries took a turn for the worst after reports of widespread discrimination against black people in the province first emerged.

Maximus Ogbonna, president of the Association of Nigerian Community in China, welcomed the new measures but said they did not go far enough.

He said he was sure that specific fines for landlords who refused to rent to Africans or cab divers who refused to take black passengers would help.

He also said he had received many calls from Africans who were frustrated with the constant testing, and questioned whether the new option to providing weekly proof of testing was a feasible one, saying: “Does it mean people will need to take the test every seven days?”

Ogbonna was also saddened by the change in attitudes towards Africans. “The locals are still avoiding black people,” he said “When they see black people, they will turn their back or run away, as if the black person is carrying the Covid-19!

“It’s funny – sometimes the Chinese person who used to be a friend has changed. This is just not normal.”

Ogbonna added that many Africans who want to return home are suffering from the economic impact of the lockdown.

“Recently, many Africans visas have expired, but the Chinese authorities are only planning to give them one-month extensions,” he added. “[But] they will need at least two to three months to get their affairs in order before they can leave China.”

A group of African ambassadors in Beijing demanded “the cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans,” in a letter drafted in mid-April.

The letter was followed by a statement from China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, promising that Guangdong authorities were “working promptly to improve their working method”.

On Saturday the South China Morning Post reported that some Africans in Guangzhou were still experiencing discrimination and said they were having trouble renting flats or were being stopped from entering restaurants and supermarkets.