Time for Solidarity: China and Africa need to stay united in combating COVID-19

Relatives attend the funeral of Benedict Somi Vilakasi at the Nasrec Memorial Park near Johannesburg on Thursday. Vilakasi, a Soweto coffee shop manager, died of covid-19 on Sunday. (Jerome Delay/AP)

By Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi

As someone who has studied, stayed, and now working in China for the past 10 years and has had close interactions with Chinese at different levels, I want to highlight the need for preserving the shared goals that have existed between Africa and China, and treating the coronavirus pandemic as a common threat to mankind.  

However, to my regret, there have been numerous reports from diverse social and mainstream media outlets about discrimination against Africans living in Guangzhou, capital city of south China’s Guangdong Province. The social media reports claim that Nigerians and other African nationals were ejected from their hotels in the middle of the night while some students are being told to take COVID-19 and other medical tests, and go into mandatory quarantine. The social media reports added that Chinese landlords were ejecting some Africans from their apartments as part of the efforts to “curb the spread of coronavirus.” The outcries from African nationals in Guangzhou prompted African ambassadors in Beijing to release a joint complaint statement addressed to the Chinese authorities on April 10.  

While the reported actions display a resemblance of discrimination, we strongly believe that they neither mirror the general attitudes of the Chinese people toward African citizens nor are an official policy of the Chinese Government toward African people in the fight against a common enemy —the coronavirus. In reality, African and Chinese people have offered each other great support in combating the epidemic.  

While Africans can frown upon such incidents, it is also necessary to understand that Guangzhou is a commercial city and one of the leading manufacturing centers in the nation. Like any other commercial city worldwide, Guangzhou, is therefore more likely to draw legal and illegal immigrants than many other cities in China. As a result, Guangzhou has numerous illegal immigrants who may have been forced to come in contact with law enforcement authorities by the COVID-19 outbreak. Faced with fears of likely deportation, some migrants may simply have resorted to fighting back via the use of media outlets to create unnecessary alarm. 

Furthermore, as we know, China is still recuperating from the epidemic, and has put in place diverse prevention and control measures to curb the spread as well as avoid new cases, which has had an effect on the life of the Chinese people as well.  

For instance, during the lockdown of Wuhan, the Chinese Government established a “health QR code” system for everyone-both Chinese nationals and foreigners who entered the city – as people started coming back to work after over two months of lockdown. The health QR code system is aimed at easily tracking and tracing likely contact with COVID-19 patients. The service provides users color-coded designations based on their health status and travel history, and it can be scanned by authorities. Generally, the health QR code permits anybody with the green code to move freely. The yellow code requires a 14-day self-isolation, while the red code indicates a confirmed or suspected case. 

For example, when the lockdown restrictions in Wuhan were lifted, persons with the green codes were permitted to move within and out of the province while others could not, to prevent possible exportation of the virus from Wuhan to other provinces or cities. Presently, this health surveillance system has been applied in most cities and provinces including Guangzhou. Also, to curb the risk of a resurgence of the virus, some hotels, restaurants, shops and other outlets in Wuhan have been asking customers to display their codes before entering, and only those with green health codes are permitted to take public transport at present.  

Overall, while these prevention and control measures have proven to be effective in controlling the spread of the virus in Hubei Province, it may not be the case with other provinces or cities. Recently, Xinhua News Agency reported that Guangzhou authorities had confirmed 111 new coronavirus cases by April 6, 19 of whom were Africans, with nine Nigerians among them. It was reported that five of the Nigerians had visited a restaurant in Kuangquan Street in Yuexiu District. This allegedly prompted Guangzhou health authorities to impose stringent control and preventive measures for anybody entering or leaving Guangzhou city.  

With nearly 2 million coronavirus cases and more than 100,000 deaths recorded globally, every responsible nation needs to take the most suitable prevention and control measures to ensure the safety of its citizens. The prevention and control measures taken by the Guangzhou authorities show that China attaches great significance to ensuring the safety and health of its citizens as well as foreigners residing in China, and safeguarding their legitimate rights and interests in accordance with the Chinese law. Many foreigners, Africans included, have even volunteered and joined the Chinese people in the fight against the coronavirus, leaving behind some touching stories of Chinese and foreign nationals working together during these hard times. Therefore, under these severe circumstances, the Chinese Government has given full consideration to all foreigners residing within its borders. As such, the actions taken by the Guangzhou authorities should not be interpreted as outright discrimination or racism as has been done by some people. 

Even though China is still recovering from the pandemic, the nation is still backing the continent of Africa in its current fight against the coronavirus. For instance, China recently sent a 15-member medical team, equipment and medical supplies worth about $1.5 million to Nigeria. China has also provided batches of medical supplies to the African Union and all African nations with diplomatic relations to China.  

Over the past six decades, Chinese and African people have stood together through thick and thin and COVID-19 should not be permitted to stand in the way of such an important long-standing friendship built and nurtured over several decades. African ambassadors in Beijing acknowledged this long-standing relationship in their statement and applauded the excellent friendship between African nations and China dating back to 1971 when Africa supported China in securing its rightful place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as China’s support dating back to Africa’s liberation struggle period. This long-standing friendship has laid an unbreakable foundation of China-Africa cooperation, and is the source of the robust vitality of a China-Africa community with a shared future. 

China has continued to pledge enormous sums of financing and aid to support Africa’s development over recent decades. Chinese lenders have provided some $143 billion in loans to African governments and their state-owned enterprises from 2000 to 2017, according to the China-Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University. China has also offered training programs for African journalists as part of what Chinese state media have called public-diplomacy efforts as well as people-to-people exchanges. Also, China has supported Africa’s physical and human capital development, and nowadays there are thousands of African students still living and studying in China on Chinese government scholarships, even in the face of the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, there are numerous Chinese people working in African nations, especially on business investment and development projects.  

Therefore, these difficult times should reveal glaringly to us how powerful we can be if we live together with peace and love. China opposes all forms of discrimination and prejudice, but requires all foreign nationals including Africans in China to strictly abide by the law on the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, as well as other laws and local regulations on epidemic control and prevention. As such, Africans should abide by the laws and fully comply with measures deemed necessary by Guangzhou authorities to control and prevent a further escalation of the epidemic, as doing so safeguard their own and other’s health. Therefore, this difficult time should be a time when we try and uphold the China-Africa solidarity with shared goals, not as a divided global community but as a united global community, and collectively fight against this common enemy by focusing on what matters most—saving lives.

This article was first published at chinafrica.cn and is reprinted with permission. 

About the Author

Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi is executive director of the Center for Nigerian Studies, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of All China Review.


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