'Even Xi Hasn't Left China': Pakistan FM Expresses Inability to Help Students Return to China
Before the pandemic, in 2018, China hosted 492,000 foreign students (ranking third in the world) from 196 nations, who were enrolled in degree and non-degree courses across its 1,004 universities, as per official figures. While S. Korea sent the largest contingent of foreign students to China, over 28,000 Pakistanis were present there at the time.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has expressed his inability to help out local youngsters who are enrolled at Chinese universities to return to China
and continue their studies, as per a video which has emerged on social media.
The video features a group of Pakistani students asking Qureshi whether he could facilitate their return to China so that they could physically attend their courses.
China banned the entry of foreigners into the country as well as implemented strict lockdown measures in March 2020 after the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, in a bid to realise its “Zero-COVID Strategy”.
In subsequent weeks, foreigners who found themselves stuck in China, including the international students, were repatriated to their native countries aboard special flights after permission from Beijing.
Almost two years after returning from China, many international students, including those in Pakistan and India, have been now making desperate pleas
to their governments to facilitate their return to China so that they don’t miss out on their education.
Many of these students, both in Pakistan and India, often complain that the online education hasn’t been a match for attending university in person.
Since March 2020, the Chinese government has only allowed South Korean students as well as students
enrolled in joint foreign university degrees to return to the country, as per the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“China [the Chinese government] is not allowing any [foreigner] to travel there,” Pakistan's Foreign Minister can be heard telling the students in the video.
One of the students tells the minister “Sir, but we are vaccinated with both the doses”, but Qureshi replies: “You don’t have to explain that to me. Don’t you think that I understand that?”
“China has a policy of not allowing in any foreigner [barring a few exceptions]. Look at Chinese President Xi Jinping. He hasn’t left China [in a long time]. Even we [the Pakistani leadership] have been finding it difficult to see him in person," the minister goes on telling the students to further clarify about the prevailing compulsions in China.
"They [the Chinese officials] have told us to get tested ahead of any scheduled meeting with President Xi. And there are many other formalities that one has to go through as well,” Qureshi adds.
The Chinese President has neither travelled out of China nor hosted any foreign leader since March 2020. His last overseas visit was to Myanmar back in January 2020.
“Sir, but we are like your own children,” the adamant student persists. To this, Qureshi replies: “Look, we are not the ones who unleashed the pandemic. The situation is not in our hands. We have been making efforts [to facilitate the return of Pakistani students] and will continue to do so."
Before walking away from the agitated students, Qureshi further tells them to be prepared for even further delays in their return to China
“We might even have to wait for another two years [before the COVID-related travel restrictions are lifted],” Qureshi says.
While Beijing has yet to announce a plan for return of its international student population, there are already concerns that the ban on foreigners’ entry could reportedly stretch till the second half of 2022.
According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s State Council decided at a meeting last year that it would continue to have the foreigner travel ban in place till the completion of the Winter Olympics (set to begin next month) and the Communist Party’s People’s Congress.
However, the surfacing of the Omicron variant has led to Beijing implementing even harsher measures.
According to reports, nearly 1.5 percent of China’s population
, or around 20 million people, are currently under lockdown, with many of them living in the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, and Henan Province.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has on several occasions justified the government’s strict policy, arguing that Beijing “applies quarantine measures equally to all inbound travellers, including its own citizens.”
“The Chinese government attaches high importance to the issue of foreign students coming to China for their studies. On the basis of ensuring safety amid COVID-19, we will consider in a coordinated manner an arrangement for allowing foreign students to return to China for their studies, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin had stated during a press conference in September last year.
"At the same time, we stand ready to work actively toward the healthy, safe and orderly cross-border flow of people on the basis of sound anti-epidemic protocols,” Wang added.