As Chinese-made vaccines are not available in India, the announcement will bring little relief for at least 23,000 Indians studying there, most of them in medical colleges.
A number of China’s overseas missions, including its embassy in New Delhi, have announced they will begin “facilitating” travellers provided they have taken “Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines”.
Indians have been barred from travelling to China since November last year, when China suspended valid visas and residents permits not just for travellers from India but for most countries citing COVID-19 concerns. The ban has been a particular concern for many Indian students enrolled in Chinese universities, who have been unable to return to China. There are at least 23,000 Indians studying in China, most in medical colleges.
The March 15 announcement will bring little relief for them as Chinese-made vaccines are not available in India. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that China “stands ready to advance mutual recognition of vaccines with other countries”, but that process is expected to take time.
For now, the limited easing of the travel ban will only apply to travellers who have taken Chinese vaccines. A notice from the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said, “For the purpose of resuming people-to-people exchanges in an orderly manner, starting from 15 March, 2021, the Chinese Embassies and Consulates in India will provide the persons having taken Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine and holding the Certificates of Vaccination with the following facilitating measures”, including for those going to China for “employment contracts, work resumption and other relevant activities” and family members of Chinese nationals, provided they have taken Chinese vaccines. The announcement did not say if it would apply to students.
Asked by a reporter in January if the Chinese government would take “a sympathetic view” of the plight of some of the 23,000-plus enrolled Indian students who remain in India, as many had taken on considerable financial burdens to pursue medical degrees in China, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “I can relate to your feelings, including the confusion and plight of so many Indian students as you mentioned. I believe similar situations exist all over the world. To my knowledge, there are many Chinese students who have invested heavily in studies overseas, but due to the sudden COVID-19 outbreak, they are unable to pursue their education as planned, and a lot of them have to stay at home for online courses. Such a situation is not what we want to see.”
Ms. Hua said authorities had “required relevant departments and academic institutions to maintain close contact with overseas students, properly design and arrange online teaching, and duly handle reasonable demands and concerns.”
Indian students, who account for the fourth-largest segment of international students in China, have faced particular obstacles, the South China Morning Post reported last month, with many of the Chinese apps used for online teaching banned last year, when India restricted more than 200 Chinese apps in the wake of the June border clash in the Galwan Valley.
After WeChat was banned and students complained to their colleges, one university, the newspaper reported, began to use the Alibaba-owned DingTalk and Tencent’s Meeting for online classes. Eventually, those apps were banned as well.
The larger concern for the students, who will have to pass challenging exams in India after graduation to be able to practice, is their inability to receive laboratory training as they remain unable to return.
In a March 5 meeting with the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, India’s envoy in Beijing Vikram Misri “flagged outstanding consular issues pertaining to Indian nationals” and “requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ facilitation in seeking a resolution,” the Indian Embassy in Beijing said in a statement.