Chinese authorities today denied that China's relations with African nations have been damaged by a recent clash between Chinese and foreign students at Tianjin University.
In a rare press conference, officials also denied that racism was involved in the incident and predicted that the problems the clash created would soon be resolved.
African students involved in the Tianjin incident -- a five-hour rock-, brick- and bottle-throwing melee that left several students injured -- insist that racism was a factor in the clash, which occurred on the night of May 24.
In a protest demonstration -- also a highly unusual event in China -- about 200 African students yesterday marched to the Chinese state commission on education here and demanded an official guarantee of their safety and an end to what they described as racial discrimination.
Demonstrations in China usually are officially authorized events in support of causes favored by the government. Yesterday's march protested conditions here that the Africans describe as intolerable.
In the press conference, officials said the authorities did not approve of the demonstration.
The press conference was the first in recent memory at which Chinese officials have addressed such controversial issues at great length. The authorities apparently were concerned about possible damage to China's image overseas and wanted to correct what they described as misperceptions about what occurred.
Chinese students, meanwhile, demanded punishment for Africans accused of throwing beer bottles and glasses and injuring seven Chinese students in the fight.
University officials said the Africans' behavior provoked an assault by several hundred Chinese on a dining hall where foreign students, including a number of Africans, were holding a dance.
Chinese students told foreigners in Tianjin recently that more violence might occur if the Africans were not punished. Officials said that an investigation of the actions of two African students is under way.
In the press conference, Yu Fuzhen, deputy director for foreign affairs at the state education commission, said the fight was the result of a "misunderstanding" and described it as "an isolated incident."
Yu said that the students are young and "highly excitable," and maintained that what happened could not be viewed as racism.
The Tianjin incident "doesn't affect" China's relations with the nations from which the African students came, Yu said. He said that the safety of African students in China "has never been a problem."
Students who participated in yesterday's march said they had not received an answer to their demands.
Solomon A. Tardey, 25, a Liberian and former president of the African students association in China, said, "We want the education commission to tell school authorities that they have racial discrimination against African students and that they must stop it."
Asked for examples of bias, Tardey said that teachers gave preferential treatment to other foreigners over blacks. He said that whenever he sat in a university classroom, "Nobody sits near me . . . Nobody even dares to speak to me."
Tardey studies philosophy at Peking University, one of China's leading educational institutions. One of the organizers of yesterday's protest, he has spent more than four years in China and is approaching the end of his studies here.
Tardey said that when he visited the "friendship store" in Peking, which caters to foreigners, he was unable to get service from the Chinese clerks. He also said that Chinese taunted him wherever he went.