China denies racism, says hyping up TV blackface skit 'futile'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday it was “futile” to try to make an issue of a program on state television in which a Chinese actress was made up to appear African, which has provoked accusations of racism.

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The actress, Lou Naiming, appeared on stage at the widely watched Lunar New Year television gala in colorful garb with her face and arms colored brown, carrying a fruit basket on her head, and accompanied by someone dressed up as a monkey.

The scene sparked criticism on Chinese social media that it was racist and it has also been widely reported on by Western media. The week-long Lunar New Year holiday ended on Wednesday.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had consistently opposed any form of racism.

“Recently many media, especially Western media, have reported on and commented on this matter,” said Geng, who said he had seen reports about the skit.

“I want to say that if there are people who want to seize on an incident to exaggerate matters, and sow discord in China’s relations with African countries, this is a doomed futile effort,” he added.

Public discussion of racial discrimination is unusual in China, which is dominated by the ethnic Han majority but is also home to dozens of minority groups as well as a growing influx of foreign residents, including Africans.

Geng said China and Africa had weathered many storms and their cooperation had been successful.

“How relations are between China and Africa and whether or not cooperation is good, African countries and the people of Africa know in their hearts exactly how things stand.”

State television did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China is hosting the heads of many African nations later in the year at a once-every-three-years summit between China and Africa.

In 2016, a laundry detergent company in China apologized after running an ad in which a black man was stuffed headfirst into a washing machine only to emerge a moment later as a fair-skinned Asian man.

China has forged increasingly close ties with many African nations in its hunt to satisfy demand for commodities in its booming economy.

It has rejected accusations of neo-colonialism in Africa, saying its aid there has no strings attached and is widely welcomed.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel