New Delhi: India defended the continued suspension of tourist visas to Chinese nationals, pointing to major Chinese cities still grappling with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
In a circular dated April 20, the global airlines body International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, “Tourist visas issued to nationals of China (People’s Republic) are no longer valid.”
During the weekly media briefing, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was asked whether it was a tit-for-tat move in line with China not removing visa restrictions on Indian nationals.
“I think you are all aware of the COVID situation in Chinese cities like Shanghai and elsewhere. I don’t think it is an opportune moment really to discuss the resumption of issuance of tourist visas from China in the context of what is happening in Shanghai and the COVID situation there,” he told reporters.
China’s commercial hub, Shanghai, had been under lockdown since late March when new daily cases surged into the thousands. Reuters reported that the Chinese capital of Beijing had closed down some schools and public spaces on Thursday, even as it introduced mass testing to avoid a Shanghai-like lockdown. China had suspended the issuance of most types of visas to Indians since November 2020, Bagchi said.
Responding to a volley of follow-up questions, he reiterated, “I don’t think it is the most opportune time to discuss resumption of issuance of tourist visas with China.”
“You are aware of the situation there. I don’t think this is the right time to talk about resumption of issuance of tourist visas. The Chinese themselves have not issued visas to us. Travel to China is not the easiest of things, nor is travel out of China,” he said.
According to the Press Trust of India, some of the visas for Chinese nationals were short-term visas and had already lapsed.
Clarifying the timeline of suspended tourist visas for Chinese nationals, Bagchi said, “When COVID hit in March 2020, we had to freeze visas across the board for all countries, tourist visas were stopped for all countries. When I say resumption, I mean from there.”
In March, the Ministry of Home Affairs reopened the tourist e-visa facility but reduced the number of countries eligible for the e-visa facility to 156 from the earlier 170. Besides China, the significant omissions in the new list were the United Kingdom, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, The Economic Times reported.
Asked about Indian students who have not been able to go back for studies to China, Bagchi said that during the last visit of Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had himself mentioned that the issue had been taken up.
“We have requested them to look at the difficulties that students in India are facing. We have not had an update since then on this issue. This is an issue we are focussed on,” Bagchi said.
On students from other countries like Sri Lanka being reportedly allowed to return to China, Bagchi said, “I don’t want to speculate. We are concerned about students in India, and on that, we don’t have any movement yet. If the Chinese are looking at options on how they can get students in, I sincerely hope Indian students will also benefit from those mechanisms.”
India has been raising with China the plight of approximately 22,000 Indian students enrolled in Chinese universities who cannot go back for physical classes. However, till date, the Asian giant has refused to let them enter.
These students had to leave their studies in China and come to India when the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. The Wire