Letter to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo about reports of racial discrimination against persons of African descent, including African Americans, in the Guangzhou metropolitan area of the People's Republic of China
April 21, 2020
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We write with great concern about reports of racial discrimination against persons of African descent, including African Americans, in the Guangzhou metropolitan area of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). We urge you to immediately take action to ensure the safety of U.S. nationals in Guangzhou and throughout the rest of China, and to work with the United Nations and the international community to ensure racial discrimination against foreign nationals is not official policy of the world’s second largest economy.
Recent reports suggest the Chinese government has instituted coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) related quarantines on the basis of race.12 Allegedly, due to new cases originating with a group of Nigerian nationals in Guangzhou, local authorities overreached in an attempt to contain the spread of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic by requiring all persons of African descent and any person suspected to have come into contact recently with a person of African descent to quarantine.34 This led to reports of businesses, including international corporations, closing their doors to any Black person and posting signs confirming the same.56 There have also been reports of evictions of people that appear to be of African descent.7 We appreciate the U.S. Consulate General in China for advising U.S. nationals of African descent to avoid Guangzhou. However, much more should be done immediately.
The United States and the international community should be deeply concerned by these facially racist practices under the guise of public health prudence anywhere they occur. These practices threaten the safety of U.S. nationals, especially but not exclusively African Americans, and foreign nationals from many allies of the United States. We have seen violent and prejudicial backlash to persons of Chinese and Asian descent across the globe, including in the United States, due to misconceptions that they are carriers of the novel coronavirus since it originated in Wuhan, China. If these experiences are prologue, we should fear the outbreak of similar violence in China against persons of African descent or anyone suspected of interacting with such persons.
Additionally, the opaque and often capricious nature of the Chinese legal system prevents foreign nationals from being able to rely or count on local authorities to ensure the safety of persons of African descent.8 In fact, many of our offices have already received requests from African Americans in Guangzhou and China who fear for their safety due to this policy. Yet, due to travel restrictions, they now appear unable to return to the United States.
However, the immediate safety and potential human rights violations borne from this policy are not our only concerns. The policy’s perverse application of contact tracing epitomizes historical and political imagery that marks African Americans as unclean and diseased, a racist stigma that has no place in any country in the modern era. Allowing a significant world power like the PRC to institute these historically and explicitly anti-Black policies without consequence will send the wrong signal to the international community and would represent a major setback to racial equality in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, we request you take the following actions:
1. Immediately demand that the Chinese government and relevant regional authorities provide safe passage to international airports for all U.S. persons desiring to leave China because of fears to their safety due to this and similar policies, and arrange U.S. government-organized charter flights to repatriate any and all Americans back to the U.S. if commercial capacity is insufficient. These flights should also be made available to non-U.S. persons that have a direct relationship with a U.S. national, e.g. a spouse of Chinese descent.
2. Conduct outreach to all U.S. persons in China to ensure they are aware of the discriminatory practices in Guangzhou, the availability of commercial or charter flights out of China, and any other helpful information to assist U.S. persons in China in navigating these policies. This should include but not be limited to utilizing the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) and providing frequent, detailed updates to U.S. persons registered on STEP.
3. Immediately engage with the PRC’s Foreign Minister and demand a reversal in this policy. These negotiations should include guarantees of safety and freedom of movement for U.S. persons as well as guarantees that the U.S. Consulate General in China and the Secretary of State are notified if any U.S. person or individual related to said person, such as a spouse, is arrested or otherwise detained by the Chinese government due to this or similar policies.
4. Engage with allies and the international community, including the United Nations, to coordinate efforts to reverse this policy and safeguard human rights for persons of African descent in China.
5. Work with congressional offices who are assisting constituents in the PRC, including by providing contact information for key personnel at State, guidance as the situation evolves, and providing the approximate number of U.S. nationals in China by province or autonomous region.
Due to its lethality and highly contagious nature, the novel coronavirus has instilled worldwide fear. Yet, this is not an excuse for regressive or discriminatory behavior by any country or any of its citizens. Instead, it calls for the United States to accept its role as a world leader and demand fair treatment of all people, in all countries, and especially our citizens abroad.
Thank you for the immediate consideration of our request.
1 U.S. Mission China, “Health Alert: U.S. Consulate general Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China,” U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China: April 13, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2020. https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/health-alert-u-s-consulate-general-guangzhou-peoples-republic-of-china/
2 Alexandra Sternlicht, “’Black People Are Not Allowed’: Reports of Discrimination After Chinese City Orderse Mandatory Quarantine for African Residents,” Forbes: April 13, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/04/13/black-people-are-not-allowed-reports-of-discrimination-after-chinese-city-orders-mandatory-quarantine-for-african-residents/
3 Guo Rui, “Coronavirus: Guangzhou cases prompt shutdown in ‘Little Africa’ trading hub,” South China Morning Post, April 7, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3078861/coronavirus-guangzhou-cases-prompt-shutdown-little-africa
4 U.S. Mission China, 2020
5 Kristin Huang and He Huifeng, “No racism behind coronavirus protections, China assures African community,” South China Morning Post, April 13, 2020. Accessed April 15, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3079618/no-racism-behind-coronavirus-protections-china-assures-african
6 Forbes 2020
7 Huang and Huifeng 2020
8 U.S. Mission China, 2020
The full letter can also be found HERE