SCIO briefing on the health and security of Chinese students overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak

The State Council Information Office held a press conference in Beijing on April 2 to brief the media on the health and security of Chinese students living overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak. April 6, 2020

Hu Kaihong:

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Welcome to this press conference held by the State Council Information Office (SCIO). Today, we have invited Ma Zhaoxu, vice minister of foreign affairs; Tian Xuejun, vice minister of education; Lyu Erxue, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC); and Zhang Yang, head for the Department of International Cooperation of the National Health Commission. They will brief you on the health and security of Chinese students living overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak and take questions.

First, I will give the floor to Mr. Ma. 

Ma Zhaoxu:

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I'm very glad to attend the press conference held by the State Council Information Office again and communicate with you on the health and security of Chinese students overseas during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Students studying abroad are children of the motherland and an important force to build China's future. The Party and the country have always attached great importance to Chinese students living abroad. At the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, concerned about the motherland, the Chinese students overseas donated money and supplies in support of the fight against the epidemic to the homeland, which showed their precious patriotism. Currently, the pandemic is spreading at multiple hotspots around the world. The CPC Central Committee has always cared about the health and safety of Chinese students overseas and has adopted a series of major measures.

General Secretary Xi Jinping has given important instructions and made arrangements regarding this issue on many occasions. He ordered more guidance and support to Chinese nationals overseas and the protection of their lives and health. According to the meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, it is necessary to strengthen the care for Chinese nationals overseas, and the embassies and consulates abroad must provide consular protection, guidance on protection and secure material supplies to protect their lives and health. General Secretary Xi Jinping personally emphasized during calls with leaders from Britain, the United States, France, Germany and other countries that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the lives and health of Chinese citizens overseas. He also urged the host countries to safeguard the health, safety and legitimate rights of Chinese citizens, especially students. These requests were met with positive responses.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Ministry of Education and other relevant departments, resolutely implemented the important instructions of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the arrangements of the CPC Central Committee. Wang Yi, state councilor and foreign minister, and the Party Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs required more than 280 embassies and consulates abroad to prioritize the relevant work of safeguarding Chinese students' health and lives. Acting on the principles of "putting people first" and "diplomacy for the people," the embassies and consulates are required to take all-out efforts to safeguard the health and safety of Chinese students living overseas as though they were taking care of their own children.

According to the deployments, we have issued multiple measures in this regard within a short period of time. Chinese embassies and consulates overseas have been in close contact with Chinese students in those countries, learned of their appeals and difficulties, and helped them solve all kinds of problems. The consular helpline 12308, operated by the foreign ministry, stands ready to provide consular protection and assistance. The Chinese embassies and consulates abroad have set up 24-hour hotlines to respond to the needs of students overseas. Meanwhile, through various channels that include embassy websites, WeChat and Chinese language media, we have introduced an online medical service platform to overseas Chinese nationals and forwarded a prevention and control guideline on COVID-19, as well as host countries' regulations on the pandemic control. We have strengthened communication with Chinese nationals overseas, especially students, in various ways. Chinese embassies and consulates abroad have mobilized the local Chinese community to establish pairing assistance systems with overseas students and set up platforms for Chinese citizens to help each other, providing services to buy supplies and giving a helping hand to those in quarantine. For example, with the promotion of the embassy in Germany, 85 Chinese student unions in Germany have set up 101 WeChat groups for the prevention and control of the pandemic, keeping contact with 35,000 Chinese students.

The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. invited experts to talk with overseas students and representatives of overseas Chinese via video link. Chinese ambassadors to the U.S., the UK, Germany, Italy, South Korea and other countries communicated with overseas students and overseas Chinese representatives directly via video link in the CCTV news studio. More than 100 million people watched the live broadcast online when Mr. Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the U.S., appeared on the CCTV news program.

Our embassies and consulates have actively performed their duties, and urged host countries to safeguard the health, safety and legitimate rights and interests of overseas Chinese students. Our ambassadors and consul-generals wrote letters to the presidents of local universities, asking them to take good care of Chinese students and solve their difficulties regarding accommodation and their studies. Recently, nearly 100 Chinese students studying in Russia were unable to obtain visas on arrival due to medical isolation or other reasons. The Chinese Embassy in Russia actively communicated with the Russian government and helped them solve their problems promptly. Some countries asked all students to move out of their dormitories because of the outbreak, so Chinese embassies immediately communicated with relevant departments to grant the students permission to stay and helped them solve this pressing problem. After learning that four Chinese students had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in Spain, the Chinese embassy and consulate in Spain urged local departments and hospitals to give them prompt and proper treatment, and invited Chinese doctors to provide them with online professional consultation from China. When words and deeds of discrimination against Chinese citizens appeared in some countries, Chinese embassies and consulates spoke out and took action at the earliest possible time. We expressed our condemnation, lodged solemn representations, and safeguarded the legitimate rights and interests of all Chinese citizens abroad.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic overseas, protective equipment including face masks have been in short supply worldwide. Chinese embassies and consulates have immediately responded to the needs of overseas Chinese students. In accordance with the general deployment of the Chinese government, we have made every effort to collect face masks, disinfectant, sanitizing wipes and other urgently needed materials through various channels, and distributed "health packages" to overseas Chinese students. Many diplomats from Chinese embassies and consulates even donated their own masks and stockpiled materials to our overseas students. The Chinese Embassy in the UK has prepared 200,000 "health packages", trying its best to ensure that every overseas student can get one. At present, Sri Lanka is running extremely short of epidemic prevention equipment and has imposed martial law. Seeing that many Chinese staying outside the capital of Sri Lanka need masks urgently, the Chinese embassy there immediately communicated with local governments and coordinated with local police to deliver masks and other emergency supplies by relay to Chinese compatriots including overseas students.

At present, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prioritized work regarding the "health packages," allocating 500,000 to countries with more Chinese students, including more than 11 million masks, 500,000 disinfection materials, and epidemic prevention guidelines. Since many countries have implemented national lockdown or lockdown on cities, the foreign ministry and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) have been racing against time to prioritize deliveries of the "health packages" by civil aviation planes, so as to ensure overseas students can receive them in a timely manner. The picture here shows a "health package" prepared by the Chinese Embassy in Iceland, which includes masks, hand sanitizer, and epidemic prevention guidelines. Although the "health package" is small, it conveys the care and love of the motherland, the Party and our people, making overseas students feel a sense of warmth. Many overseas students have stated that the "health packages" let them truly feel the care of the motherland and have strengthened their confidence in fighting the epidemic. They said they would protect themselves well while completing their studies, and serve the motherland as soon as possible. One overseas student said on WeChat Moments, "I will never forget that there are students from all over the world on campus. But so far, I have only seen the Chinese embassy distribute epidemic prevention equipment to each dormitory door. Thank you, my motherland!" Another student wrote, "I will deal with the epidemic in a rational and scientific way, and  enhance self-protection without neglecting my studies. This way I will let the people of the motherland and my family at home feel at ease."

We have also dispatched medical experts and working groups to provide scientific and professional guidance on epidemic prevention and control for overseas Chinese, especially overseas students. A total of 10 medical expert teams have been dispatched to eight countries. They are working with local governments to fight COVID-19, and have held face-to-face or online lectures to introduce knowledge on epidemic prevention to overseas Chinese students, companies and citizens. With the support of the Chinese Consulate-General in Milan, overseas Chinese in Italy have worked with the medical experts to establish an "online makeshift hospital." A few days ago, a joint team of medical experts from Shandong province arrived in the UK, including disease control and medical personnel. So far, they have held three online exchange events to provide guidance on epidemic prevention to overseas Chinese and help them lessen stress and anxiety. Overseas Chinese students have expressed their appreciation for the support and kindness from the CPC and the motherland.

When our overseas Chinese students encounter emergencies and are lost in deep trouble, the CPC and Chinese government will always be there to help them. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, China has returned overseas nationals facing difficulties to China by chartered airplanes and temporary flights. Since March, when the epidemic was spreading rapidly across the world, China has sent nine chartered planes to bring back 1,457 Chinese nationals, including overseas students from Iran, Italy and other hard-hit countries. Recently, many countries have made changes to their entry and exit policies for foreigners and adjusted flights, leaving overseas Chinses students stranded at airports in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Bangladesh. I remember that there were around 300 people stranded in Ethiopia, over 100 in Bangladesh and more than 140 in Cambodia. Most of these were overseas Chinese students. After learning about the situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked local embassies to act immediately and provide consular protection and assistance to the Chinese nationals, including providing necessary hospitality, accommodation, face masks and other health supplies. With the joint efforts at home and overseas, the problems have been properly resolved. All the Chinses nationals stranded overseas have already been brought back home by additional flights.

China now still faces the risk of epidemic rebounding at home. The spread of the epidemic outside of China has also posed new challenges to our domestic epidemic prevention and control work. Chinese embassies and consulates have paid close attention to the overall situation of the epidemic, as well as the demands and plans of overseas Chinse students. As far as I know, most overseas students have chosen to stay in their host countries. Experts have also suggested, based on the WHO's advice, reducing cross-border movement of people under the current situation. China's civil aviation authorities also reduced the volume of international passenger flights due to the pandemic. However, we have noticed that there are still some overseas Chinese students who need to return to China because of practical difficulties that cannot be resolved. The CAAC has stated that the major air transportation guarantee mechanism will be activated to arrange additional flights and charter flights to cities where a large number of people in need are concentrated together, if their destinations have the ability to prevent and control the epidemic. In fact, with our earlier efforts, many overseas Chinese students have already returned home. China is also taking measures to help Chinese students who run into difficulties in hard-hit countries to come back home in an orderly manner. Today, we have already arranged a temporary chartered flight to bring overseas students in London back home. The plane took off at 9:30 a.m. In light of the needs for domestic prevention and control, those returning to China should comply with the relevant regulations, including strict testing, isolation and observation. This is for the sake of their health and public health security.

Also, I would like to say, in face of the pandemic, our personnel working in Chinese embassies and consulates overseas have always kept in mind their aspirations and missions. They have devoted themselves in the fight against COVID-19 and provided services to overseas Chinese nationals, including students. In addition, our students studying abroad have also made their own efforts. Chinese students in Germany, the UK, Japan and other countries have set up online platforms and groups for epidemic prevention and control. They are supporting and caring for one another, as well as volunteering to help distribute health kits, playing an irreplaceable role in the fight against COVID-19. The Chinese embassies and consulates will always stand with our students and together we will secure the final victory.

The prevention and control of the epidemic is a people's war against COVID-19. Every Chinese national, including those studying overseas, are playing their part in combating the epidemic to eventually winning this war. I want to stress, again, that the Party and the government consider the health and well-being of Chinese nationals living overseas a priority. The motherland will always actively back overseas Chinese citizens. Conducting "diplomacy for the people" has always been the aim of our diplomatic work. We will take practical actions to embody the care and love for overseas students of General Secretary Xi Jinping and the Party and state by safeguarding overseas students' lives and physical well-being. We will work with the broad masses of overseas students to win this war. Thank you.

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