- Caution against taking legal action, reciprocity
Experts in international affairs Saturday asked African Heads of State and Government to unite and speak with one voice against the inhuman treatment of Nigerians and other African nationals living in China.
The experts strongly condemned the allegation of discrimination and racism against Nigerians and black people living in China, pointing out that no country, not just China, should condone discrimination in inter-state relations.
In separate interviews with THISDAY yesterday, a former Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa; Africa’s professor of international law, Prof. Akin Oyebode and a former Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu canvassed these positions.
Viral videos had shown Chinese nationals abusing, harassing and maltreating Nigerians, Africans and black people living in the Asian country while the Government of China had not done much to protect them.
Consequently, the federal government and other African countries had accused China of racism and discriminatory practices against Nigerians and black people living the Asian biggest country following the outbreak of COVID- 19 in some parts of the country.
It claimed: “We have been engaging with China at various levels; at the level of our consulate in Guangzhou where the cases of racism and discrimination have been ongoing and also at the federal level in Beijing, through our embassy.
“We have made it clear to the Government of China in no uncertain terms that under no circumstance will we accept racial discrimination against Nigerians or Africans or black people living in China. That is a red line for us.”
Contingent upon these claims, Akinterinwa urged the federal government “to mobilise all the member states of the African Union (AU) against the inhuman treatment of Nigerians, Africans and black people in China. The mobilisation should start with ECOWAS for them to adopt common response.
“This should be the first step to mobilise African leaders to maintain common stand and speak with one voice. In that case, African states must have good foreign ministers. People need to understand the dynamics of international relations.”
If the federal government can establish evidence of discrimination or racism against its citizens, Akinterinwa observed that the federal government “can raise on the basis of the principle of international responsibility.
“If a country does not perform its duties internationally, any sovereign state can lodge a complaint. Nigeria can raise questions about the international responsibility of China at the level of UN General Assembly. The argument will be that no person is supposed to be discriminated against,” he said.
While the instrument of reciprocity could be deployed against China to protest allegation of racism, Akinterinwa warned against the instrument on the ground that Nigeria “does not have the kind of capacity or power China can wield.”
Under international law, he argued that Nigeria “can decide to reciprocate. But we must look at it at three levels. The first one is government to government. At this level, Nigeria can retaliate against Chinese companies in Nigeria in the award of new contracts.
“We can deny them residents permit or rights of establishment. The second level is people to people. If we make life difficult for Chinese here, China too can reciprocate. Under reciprocity, means is required. Nigeria does not have the kind of capacity China has.
“The federal government has to balance political differences with economic interest. Chinese are the ones constructing rail track in Nigeria. They are the ones funding it. In this context, we must weigh our action.”
Unlike Akinterinwa, Oyebode called for retaliation, which according to him, implied hostile attitude by Nigerians to the numerous Chinese domiciled here while under retorsion, Nigeria can withdraw some privileges available to the Chinese in Nigeria.
If the allegation continues, Oyebode said: “We can send a strongly worded protest to Beijing, deprecating the treatment meted to some of our nationals in China which should sink into the heads of the authorities there.
“After all, they should remember that once upon a time, there were notices hung on hotels and restaurants in China saying dogs and Chinese not admitted…”
While he subscribed to the option of seeking redress at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Oyebode warned that the option should “not be applied in the first instance, not only because of the technicalities involved but on account of the severe damage that might occasion for on-going bilateral relations.”
Odinkalu, currently Senior Managing Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Initiative, observed that the mistreatment of blacks in China “did not just begin. There had been egregious incidents of mistreatment of Africans by Chinese in Africa.”
He lamented that the governments of African countries “are failing themselves and their citizens badly in failing to insist on standards of non-discrimination and civilised treatment that are accepted internationally and in exercising diplomatic protection when that happens.
“That is a matter over which the International Court of Justice has jurisdiction and has exercised ample jurisdiction. What no one wants is an outbreak of vigilante Sino-phobia directed at Chinese nationals in Africa,” he said.
On this ground, Odinkalu said African governments and that of China “have a responsibility to roll these manifestations into their mutual processes.
“It will not be easy. China is a country of vast populations of about 1.4 billion. Africa is 55 countries with about 1.2 billion people. It will require work.”