(Bloomberg) -- China pledged to ease health measures on Africans in the southern city of Guangzhou, as the country sought to resolve a dispute that could set back Beijing’s diplomatic outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.
The government has treated foreigners equally and attaches great importance to their life and health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a statement posted late Sunday. “We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination,” Zhao said.
African leaders alleged discrimination against their citizens by city authorities in measures to stem the spread of imported coronavirus cases, saying Africans were mistreated, evicted from hotels, and forcefully tested for the virus. Meanwhile, McDonalds China apologized Monday after one of the chain’s Guangzhou restaurants refused to serve black customers.
African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “extreme concern” to Chinese Ambassador Liu Yuxi about “allegations of maltreatment of Africans” in Guangzhou. In a tweet Saturday, he said the African Group in Beijing was engaging with the Chinese government.
South Africa, the current African Union chair, separately expressed concern about “alleged ill-treatment of African nationals in China, including the forceful testing, quarantining for COVID-19, and other inhuman treatment.” The country called for an investigation into the matter, according to a statement from the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
McDonald’s China said that it had closed a restaurant in Guangzhou for a half day of diversity and inclusion training Sunday after an investigation confirmed social media reports that it was barring black customers. “We apologize unreservedly to the individual and our customers. The restaurant has been ordered to stop immediately such actions,” McDonald’s China said Monday.
The episode underscores the complexity of Beijing’s challenge to manage the fallout from a disease first discovered in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. China has dispatched medical supplies and shared expert advice to assist Africa, where Beijing’s fiscal and infrastructure support has long been a source of both praise and criticism.
Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong told more than 20 ambassadors from African countries Monday that authorities in Guangdong would ease “health management” measures -- an apparent reference to quarantines -- of Africans. The province planned to gradually remove the restrictions, except for confirmed patients, suspected patients and others with close contacts, Chen said, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website late Monday.
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, separately hit back Monday at the U.S. State Department for a statement Saturday saying that the incidents involving Africans in China were “a sad reminder of how hollow” Beijing’s ties to the continent were. “The U.S. is immoral and irresponsible to sensationalize the situation and it won’t succeed in sabotaging China-Africa relations,” Zhao told a regular briefing Monday in Beijing.
Guangzhou has confirmed a total of 119 imported cases of Covid-19, with 25 being foreign nationals, Mayor Wen Guohui told a news conference Sunday. Wen said the Guangzhou government has treated all foreigners equally.
“Guangzhou is an open-minded metropolis,” he said. “It’s our consistent principle to have zero tolerance for discriminatory comments and behavior.”
(Updates with Chinese response in first and eighth paragraphs.)
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