The Chinese government is working to prevent continued diplomatic fallout and protect its image in Africa after racist videos of African children made by a Chinese man living in Malawi surfaced this week.
The BBC’s investigative report into the videos found a man named Lu Ke who allegedly filmed African children unknowingly saying offensive things in Mandarin such as “I’m a black monster and I have a low IQ.” The videos were then sold on a Chinese website, according to the BBC.
The news sparked outrage in Malawi, with netizens expressing their fury on Twitter and Foreign Minister Nancy Tembo saying the country felt “disgusted, disrespected and deeply pained.”
As regards the "Racism for Sale" - investigative documentary on BBC News Africa, we are feeling disgusted, disrespected and deeply pained.I addressed the matter during today%27s #GovernmentFacesThePress session in Lilongwe.Watch short video clip below for details. #Malawi pic.twitter.com/4F2rPaQRfS— Nancy Tembo, MP. (@nancygtembo) June 13, 2022
After the Chinese Embassy in Malawi was initially criticized for its tepid response to the scandal, dismissing the videos as old news because they were filmed in 2020, they released a new, stronger statement on Thursday.
The embassy said, “The Chinese community in Malawi has voiced their condemnation to racism in strong words,” adding that “the isolated case by a fool individual does not change the whole picture.”
China's top diplomat in the region, Wu Peng, has also been engaging in damage control. He went to Malawi on Tuesday, where he met government officials, tweeting, “Nice to feel in person the Warm Heart of Africa. Malawi is a beautiful country with lovely people.”
Honored to meet H.E. Nancy Tembo @nancygtembo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of #Malawi🇲🇼. Nice to feel in person the Warm Heart of Africa. Malawi is a beautiful country with lovely people. We have strong faith in our shared future. pic.twitter.com/RxBqdIoUz6— 吴鹏 Wu Peng (@WuPeng_MFAChina) June 14, 2022
Wu Peng also tweeted, “I just reached an agreement with Malawian FM that both #China&#Malawi have zero tolerance for racism. China has been cracking down on these unlawful acts in the past yrs. We’ll continue to crack down on such racial discrimination videos in the future.”
I just reached an agreement with Malawian FM that both #China& #Malawi have zero tolerance for racism. China has been cracking down on those unlawful online acts in the past yrs. We’ll continue to crack down on such racial discrimination videos in the future. https://t.co/c9nO1MiGpa— 吴鹏 Wu Peng (@WuPeng_MFAChina) June 14, 2022
The day after his visit, Malawi’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs tweeted about a new Chinese scholarship opportunity for Malawians to study in China for a master’s degree, which some skeptics online saw as another way for Beijing to mitigate the fallout from the scandal.
Many Malawians are unconvinced by China’s apologies. The online news publication Malawi 24 reported that a Malawi-based group, the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives, has called on the police to trace all Chinese nationals in the country and find out whether they’re there illegally or misrepresenting their reasons for being in the country.
Ralph Mathekga, a South African political analyst, told VOA that China has a history of racism toward Africans, yet governments on the continent were often loath to raise such issues because of Beijing’s economic clout.
“The video is not too surprising. … I think China is never brought to account in human rights and race relations in the country’s relationship with Africa,” he said.
But Cobus van Staden from the South African Institute of International Affairs said the videos could still be damaging.
“These kinds of depictions of Africans have a long, bad historical precedence. … I think it could be harmful for China’s image on the continent,” van Staden told VOA.
In Washington, Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida and one of the most vocal China critics in Congress, tweeted about the BBC documentary, saying it was “disgusting and inhumane” and directly blaming the Communist Party of China.
Anyone who thinks that the Chinese Communist Party is fit to lead a global superpower should think again. This is the business model set by the #CCP: exploit the vulnerable in order to make a profit. It is disgusting and inhumane. https://t.co/eJ7IXX0eOD— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) June 13, 2022
In recent years, one of Beijing’s key talking points has been racism in the United States. Chinese officials and state media regularly focus on high-profile cases of police killings of African Americans like George Floyd to accuse the U.S. of racism and human rights abuses.