McDonald’s said it closed the location and will be educating the restaurant’s employees on the company’s values.
Rabat – McDonald’s issued a public apology after a location in Guangzhou, China posted a notice prohibiting the entry of black customers.
A Twitter account called Black Livity China shared a now-viral video on April 11 showing the notice on the restaurant’s door.
“We’ve been informed that from now on back people are not allowed to enter the restaurant,” the notice read. “For the sake of your health consciously notify the local police for medical isolation, please understand the inconvenience caused [sic].”
Again, for those who still doubt that Black people and particularly #AfricansinChina are being targeted we feel it is our duty to share this. A sign at a @McDonalds restaurant seems to make this perfectly clear pic.twitter.com/FaveKrdQHi
— Black Livity China (@BlackLivityCN) April 11, 2020
The racist notice sparked backlash and quickly garnered the attention of international media, prompting McDonald’s to temporarily close the Guangzhou location and deliver a formal apology.
A spokesperson for the McDonald’s Corporation told American outlet the Hill on April 14 that “as a brand, as a company and as more than 2.2 million people serving nearly 120 countries around the world, this is not representative of our inclusive values.”
“Immediately upon learning of an unauthorized communication to our guests at a restaurant in Guangzhou, we immediately removed the communication and temporarily closed the restaurant. As part of the temporary closure of this restaurant, we will take the opportunity to further educate managers and employees on our values, which includes serving all members of the communities in which we operate,” the statement added.
Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city and an international business hub, has long hosted the largest African community in the country.
However, Chinese officials’ warnings about increases in COVID-19 cases have provoked anti-foreigner sentiment, and baseless theories speculate the virus is spreading rapidly among certain groups.
CNN reports that racial tensions in China between Africans and locals are on the rise, with landlords evicting African tenants while hotel owners ban African patrons.
BBC correspondent in Hong Kong Danny Vincent reported on April 14 that health workers have gone door-to-door testing Africans for COVID-19 and subjected them to arbitrary 14-day quarantine periods, regardless of whether they show any symptoms, have traveled, or have been in contact with patients.
Vincent added that some members of the African community in China feel as though the COVID-19 crisis has become an excuse to target businessmen who overstay their visas.
African diplomats respond
Chinese officials reportedly tried to downplay the incident and dismissed other reports of racism as “rumors” and “misunderstandings” spread by Western media, according to Quartz Africa.
Even before the McDonald’s incident, however, discrimination against Africans in China amid the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the unprovoked eviction of African tenants and hotel guests, had already caught the attention of African leaders.
Videos of African people sleeping in the streets, in hotel lobbies, under bridges, and outside police stations have circulated on social media, according to BBC.
The governments of Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, along with the African Union, have demanded explanations from the Chinese government.
Most notably, on April 10, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat invited the Chinese ambassador to the AU, Liu Yuxi, to discuss the allegations of mistreatment.
Nigeria’s speaker for the house of representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, summoned the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria on April 10 to discuss “the disturbing allegation of ill treatment of Nigerian citizens in China,” he shared on Twitter.
Today I met with the Chinese🇨🇳 Ambassador to Nigeria on the disturbing allegation of ill treatment of Nigerian citizens in China. I showed him the video clip that had made the rounds. He promised to look into it and get back to my office on Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/9SUxH0rI7X
— Femi Gbajabiamila (@femigbaja) April 10, 2020
Meanwhile, African ambassadors in Beijing sent a joint diplomatic note to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, calling on the country to condemn racial discrimination and to stop promoting a narrative that foreigners are to blame for rising COVID-19 infections.
The statement condemned “the persistent harassment and humiliation of African nationals,” adding that Chinese officials confiscated Africans’ passports and forced families with young children to sleep on the streets.
“The singling out of Africans for compulsory testing and quarantine, in our view, has no scientific or logical basis and amounts to racism towards Africans in China,” the statement continued.
Beijing attempts to make amends
In a statement on April 12, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied China had singled out foreigners as potential COVID-19 carriers.
“We are still facing great risks of imported cases and domestic resurgence. Particularly, as the pandemic spreads all over the world, imported cases are causing mounting pressure,” Lijian said.
“All foreigners are treated equally,” the spokesman continued. “We reject differential treatment, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination.”
Despite Lijian’s assurance, African governments have continued to put diplomatic pressure on China.
Ghanaian Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway summoned the Chinese ambassador to Ghana on April 13 and urged Beijing to address the “inhumane treatment” of Africans in the country, according to Modern Ghana.
On April 14, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau denounced the evidence of discrimination against Africans.
“The reality is that this has been a very unfortunate outcome,” Kamau said at a press briefing.
“Africans, Kenyans included, have been discriminated against in the process of the provincial government’s response to try and mop up the situation that they are facing there after the crisis that they had over the last few months. Sadly, they have discriminated against and targeted various foreigners in their response,” he continued.
“The African Union has responded collectively in consultation with us,” Kamau added.
As African countries are some of China’s top trade partners, Beijing is scrambling to quell the diplomatic rift.