BEIJING, China (AFP) — US chain McDonald’s has apologised after a sign telling black people they were banned from entering a branch in southern China prompted outrage online, following reports of discriminatory treatment towards Africans in the city.
Tensions have flared between police and Africans in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou after local officials announced a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a neighbourhood with a large migrant population.
As the row escalated, posts widely shared online showed a sign at fast food chain McDonald’s saying black people were not allowed to enter the restaurant.
The chain apologised and a spokesman for McDonald’s told AFP that the notice was “not representative of our inclusive values”.
In an emailed statement, Mcdonald’s said it removed the sign and temporarily closed the Guangzhou restaurant “immediately upon learning of an unauthorized communication to our guests.”
Several Africans have told AFP they had been forcibly evicted by police from their accommodation, refused service at shops and restaurants, and were subject to mass testing and arbitrary quarantines.
The row has also prompted a diplomatic flurry, with ambassadors and envoys from more than 20 African countries meeting assistant foreign minister Chen Xiaodong on Monday.
Chen promised at the meeting to “lift the health management (measures) on African people, except the confirmed patients”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
He said the Guangdong government is “constantly taking measures to improve” and act “according to the principle of non-discrimination”.
The statement said Chen asked the envoys to “look at the big picture of China-Africa friendship.”
Diplomatic sources told AFP a number of African countries had written a joint letter to the foreign ministry, which condemned the “discrimination and stigmatisation of Africans” in China, but had not yet sent it.
Guangzhou’s US consulate issued an alert on Saturday advising African-Americans to avoid travel to the city due to the targeted crackdown, and the US accused Chinese authorities of “xenophobia” toward Africans.
Beijing has also accused the US of using the row for political purposes to “drive a wedge” between China and Africa.
A total of 111 African nationals in Guangzhou have tested positive for COVID-19, including 19 imported cases, said the city’s executive vice mayor on Monday, according to Xinhua.
He said that 4,553 Africans had undergone nucleic acid testing in Guangzhou since April 4.
But city officials said on Sunday that 4,553 African nationals are currently living in Guangzhou — suggesting every African registered in the city has been tested.
Meanwhile, in a BBC News report headlined ‘Many Africans feel less welcome’ in China, by Danny Vincent in Hong Kong, wrote: “Africans in Guangzhou say that they have been facing more than a week of discrimination.
“Health workers have reportedly gone door to door testing Africans for coronavirus, many say regardless of whether they show any symptoms, have travelled or have been in contact with Covid-19 patients.
“Community leaders say that hundreds were forced out of their homes and hotel rooms and then forced into quarantine. Video has emerged online of African peopple sleeping on the streets, in hotel lobbies, under bridges and outside police stations.
“The video filmed inside McDonalds sparked anger both inside and outside China.
“The African community in Guangzhou has been dwindling in recent years. There were once thought to be hundreds of thousands from the continent conducting business in the city, but today the number has fallen to just thousands.
“Many feel that their communities have been the target of discriminative measures. Restrictions to visas have made many I have spoken to feel less welcome. Some feel that the coronavirus is being used as an excuse to target businessmen who overstay their visas.”