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(Bloomberg) — China rejected criticism about the alleged mistreatment of Africans by authorities in the southern city of Guangzhou, a dispute that could set back Beijing’s diplomatic outreach to help the continent cope with 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. They said Africans were mistreated, evicted from hotels, and forcefully tested for the virus.
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.
The episode underscores the complexity of Beijing’s challenge to manage the diplomatic 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.
China and Africa are “good friends, partners and brothers,” Zhao said in the statement. He added that their relationship was “time-tested” and noted that China had provided medical assistance and essential supplies to help African countries fight Covid-19.
Guangdong authorities will improve their health management services, such as designating hotels for medical observations, adjusting prices for those in financial difficulties and setting up effective communication mechanisms, Zhao said.
Zhao separately hit back 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 South Africa statement in fifth paragraph.)
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