2021-11-27 11:04


Hope for Foreign Students Stranded Outside China Due to COVID

Source: SCMP

Fourth-year medical student Belia Khoo might have to put her studies on hold if she cannot get back to China by May.

She went home to Malaysia in January 2020 for the Lunar New Year for what was supposed to be a month-long break. But like many international students, Khoo has been shut out of China since the coronavirus pandemic erupted, relying on live streams and pre-recorded lectures to learn.

The Shanghai Jiao Tong University student is due to begin an eight-month hospital attachment in May. If she cannot return, she will only be able to interact with patients through a live stream, potentially meaning her degree will not be recognised because of the lack of clinical training.

Chinas borders have been closed to most foreign nationals since March 2020, when the coronavirus was raging across the globe. While the pandemic is largely under control in China, its insistence on a zero-Covid strategy has denied many of the half a million international students from in-class tuition for nearly two years.

But there are positive signs for Khoo and other stranded students from Southeast Asian countries that they might be able to return soon.

Deng Xijun, Chinese ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on Wednesday said Beijing would prioritise students from the 10 Asean members to return to China in stages and continue their studies. He made the remarks after bilateral ties were upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership, which involves long-term cooperation in multiple areas, from politics to culture.

About 80,000 students from Asean member states study in China, according to the education ministrys latest available figures, from 2018.

Khoo did not want to get her hopes up. Ive been anticipating a border opening for us for two years, she said. Every time the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds a press conference, they say arranging the students return is in the works. We were thrilled. We thought a plan would materialise in about two months. But its been nearly two years now.

Khoo said she chose to study in China because the medical technology was more advanced than that in Malaysia, and she also wanted to practice there.

Ambassador Deng did not give details of how Asean students would be prioritised, saying only that the return of international students must be done in a way that maintained health and safety, and it would depend on the coronavirus situation in China.

A joint statement from this weeks Asean-China summit said the two sides would advance political, security, economic and cultural cooperation in the region. That included working together on education and promoting exchanges among young people, think tanks and local governments.

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