A senior Beijing Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday the arrest of 200 illegal Chinese gold miners should not weaken ties with Ghana.
The arrests by Ghanaian authorities are a touchy topic for China, which is looking to mollify negative sentiments against the Chinese who are doing business with Africa or jeopardise future trade agreements with the continent.
A director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing Xuejun Qiu spoke at a rare press conference after a week of meetings between Chinese delegates led by him and the president of Ghana, John Mahama to try and tackle the illegal miners’ matter.
“The issue of illegal mining is a disharmony in bilateral relations but we should always have the bigger picture in mind,” Qiu said.
According to authorities in Accra, Chinese citizens were not particular targets but Ghanaians are now watchful of Chinese miners, believing they can exploit the economic disparity between the two countries.
While arrests have been made before, this was the first mass arrest.
A Chinese official said the miners were mostly from Shang Lin County in Guangzi Zhang autonomous district in southern China. They have been repatriated.
However a senior Ghana government official said 218 Chinese citizens have been sent home, and would be classified as ‘prohibited immigrants’. He added hundreds of other Chinese nationals could go home voluntarily.
Reuters reported it is not known why he cited a different figure.
Illegal Chinese mining in Ghana has resulted in violence and bloodshed in the African country. An illegal Chinese miner in Ghana was arrested earlier this year after he shot three locals with an AK47.
A Ghanaian government crackdown on illegal mining killed a 16-year-old Chinese miner and sparked fury in China.
Ghana is Africa’s second largest gold miner and the world’s number two cocoa producer. Its trade with China involves raw materials that drive China’s economy, its involvement in infrastructure projects and the export of Chinese products to African customers.
Chinese ambassador Gong Jianzhong said bilateral trade between Ghana and China was $5.43 billion in 2012, up 56.5 per cent from 2011.
“The illegal activities conducted by some of the Chinese may harm the image of the Chinese in African countries,” he said.