By K J M Varma
India and China have discussed the return of thousands of Indian students stranded at home for two years due to Beijing’s COVID-19 bans and resumption of direct flights disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Indian embassy here said on Thursday.
The vexed issue of the return of the Indian students figured in the talks between Indian Ambassador to China Pradeep Kumar Rawat and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday.
Wang recalled his meeting with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar during his visit to New Delhi in March this year and mentioned that the “Chinese side attached importance to the Indian side’s concerns regarding the return of Indian students and that he hoped to see early progress on this”, a press release from the Indian Embassy quoted Wang as saying.
Foreign Minister Wang also referred to discussions on the resumption of direct flight connectivity between the two sides, it said.
“Ambassador Rawat conveyed that the relevant agencies in India are seized of the matter and we may see progress in the matter soon”, it said.
China, in recent months, began permitting “some” foreign students to return to the country.
On June 20, the first batch of 90 Pakistani students, stuck back home for about two years due to China’s strict visa restrictions, arrived in the Chinese city of Xian.
They are part of 250 Pakistani students China has agreed to permit to return based on their requirements while thousands more are awaiting Beijing’s nod, according to the media reports from Pakistan.
Similarly, some of the stranded students from other countries including Russia and Sri Lanka are being gradually allowed to return.
In April, after repeated representations from India, China agreed to permit the return of “some” Indian students and asked the Indian Embassy here to collect the details of those seeking to return.
As per China’s official reports, over 23,000 Indian students are studying in Chinese colleges, mostly medical courses.
Over 12,000 Indian students have expressed their wish to return and their details have been forwarded to the Chinese government for processing.
China is yet to come up with a criterion to permit the return of the students as Beijing is reluctant to allow their return at once in large numbers in view of the recent COVID-19 spike in the country.
Last week, China announced plans to provide visas to Indian professionals and their families working in various Chinese cities who are stuck back home for over two years due to Beijing’s COVID-19 visa bans.
The Chinese embassy in India updated its COVID-19 visa policy after over two years to accept visa applications of foreign nationals and their accompanying family members wanting to go to China for the resumption of work in all fields.
This week, it further updated with COVID-19 protocols to be followed by visa holders to travel to China. While opening visa services to Indians, China and India are yet to announce plans to resume flight services between the two countries.
Currently, only diplomats between the two countries travel through expensive third-country flight routes.