Uncertainty over return of foreign students as China opposes loosened restrictions
China has said it “cannot relax pandemic controls” to make it easier to travel abroad, signaling that there are no immediate plans to allow more than four thousand foreign students, including more than 23,000 Indians, mainly studying medicine at Chinese universities.
Li Bin, deputy minister of the National Health Commission, said authorities will continue to focus on preventing the local spread of imported infections and strengthen the inspection of imported goods.
“Some cities have recently seen local clusters caused by imported cases of the Delta variant, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Ruili,” he told reporters in Beijing on Thursday.
“These waves have reminded us that we cannot relax our pandemic control measures,” Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.
Ruili, a town on the Myanmar border, was closed on Wednesday as authorities try to keep a lid on China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak, which has been linked to the Delta strain.
Li’s comments came as China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday parried questions over growing calls to allow the return of more than four lakhs of foreign students from different parts of the world to resume their studies as they are stuck in their country since last year.
Calls for China to allow the return of students have mushroomed not only from India but from different countries, as frustrated students wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, asking for his intervention to allow their return. in their universities.
China International Student Union – an organization campaigning for the return of foreign students to China – wrote an open letter to Xi, saying the foreign students were in “grave despair.”
The union took inspiration from Xi’s comments in 2010, when he called foreign students “forever, a friend of China,” the To post reported earlier.
“Today, these lifelong friends of China are in a precarious situation which only China can remedy. Our education is at stake, our future is at stake,” the letter read.
China, for its part, maintained that online courses were provided to students by universities, while warding off questions over whether to allow them to return, citing the spread of the pandemic in different countries.
But the online courses had little impact on over 23,000 Indian medical students, as they had to back up their studies with laboratory facilities.
Frustrations for foreign students increased as hundreds of Chinese students studying at US universities started running home after Washington opened the visa process to facilitate their return.
On Friday, an Arab journalist asked Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin when China would allow the return of international students, as many students from Arab countries want to resume their studies.
He reiterated that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the issue of foreign students coming to China, and will consider the whole return of foreign students to China in order to ensure the safety of the prevention of the epidemic. .
Pressed further on the growing frustration of international students, including those from India, Wang said, “On the basis of ensuring security amid COVID-19, we will co-ordinately consider an arrangement for foreign students to return in China for their stay. studies.”
“At the same time, I reiterate that in light of the evolving epidemic situation, China will decide on preventive and control measures in a coordinated manner based on scientific analyzes.
“We are ready to actively work for the healthy, safe and orderly cross-border movement of people on the basis of healthy epidemic measures,” he said.
Indian diplomats in Beijing said they had discussed with the Chinese government, both at the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry level, the plight of Indian students trapped in their homes and their calls to return with the commitment to follow all specified protocols.
As noted in its previous communications, the Indian Embassy in Beijing has continued to closely monitor Chinese authorities, including the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, regarding the concerns of Indian students in China. , in particular their early return to China. colleges / universities in this country, ”the Indian Embassy said in a statement on March 22.
It is not only Indian students, but those from countries like Pakistan, which have close ties to China, have not been allowed to return.
Pakistani students, who make up the third largest group of foreign students in China, are also suffering, according to a recent report from the To post mentionned.
He cited Waseem Iqbal, a Pakistani third-year doctoral student studying at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who left China in December 2019 and has since been unable to find a job or withdraw money because all his documents are still at his university. .
“I have to take care of (my parents), buy medicine. I’m afraid, God forbid, if something happens, I have nothing”, To post quoted him as saying.
Over 4.40 lakh of foreign students from various parts of the world have studied in China. This included more than 23,000 Indian students, most of them studying medicine at various Chinese medical schools after paying high fees.
Officials say China must allow the return of foreign students either by September of this year or by April of next year at the start of the new academic year.
In addition, China is extremely cautious as it has prepared for the Winter Olympics which will be held in February next year.
China, which largely controlled the coronavirus after its first report in Wuhan in 2019, is currently vaccinating its population at a breakneck rate. To date, it has administered approximately 1.34 billion doses of vaccine.
Authorities expect China, which has a population of more than 1.4 billion, to vaccinate around 70% of its population by early next year to gain herd immunity. Until then, China may continue to block overseas travel.