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Chinese Students “Stranded” Overseas Vent Anger as Flight Restrictions Continue

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On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced they will continue their “Five Ones” (五个一) policy until October, leaving thousands of Chinese students stranded in foreign countries. Those students didn’t hold back in venting their anger over the situation, ultimately resulting in the CAAC having to disable comments on some of their social media accounts.

The “Five Ones” refer to one airline, one country, one route, one flight and one week. In other words, China allows each country to send one flight per airline per week into its borders. Enacted in late March, this policy is intended to reduce risk of Covid-19 spread. The recent announcement places Chinese nationals overseas in a challenging situation, with many of them students at foreign universities.

While the policy is in place, a Chinese person looking to return home has three options: secure an expensive spot on one of the few airline flights, hope for a chartered embassy flight, or wait it out. As users on popular microblogging platform Weibo have noted, the competition for commercial airline tickets is fierce and — if you are able to get your hands on a ticket — the cost astronomical. With embassy flights, the destination and timing is up in the air. Additionally, priority goes to those with expiring visas or a pressing need to return home. Waiting for the policy to be lifted has become the most reasonable option for many.

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The recent CAAC announcement placed Chinese international students in an especially difficult situation. By May 19, the commercial airline tickets for the summer months were fully booked.

Yihong Shi, a Chinese graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, says that she booked seven flights over the last few months in the hope that the policy would be lifted. All seven flights have been cancelled. Her friends, she told RADII, paid upwards of 60,000RMB (around 8,400USD) to third-party agents reselling the official commercial flight tickets — the only way for many to return home this summer. Many of these students stay in dorms or have apartment leases that end in August, leaving them in a tight spot.

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After news broke of the extended policy timeline, the CAAC faced a huge online backlash. Many Weibo users seemed to understand the need to regulate flights, but bemoaned the harshness of the Five Ones policy, deeming it overkill. The organization’s social media accounts were inundated with comments, many simply asking “when can we return home?” In response, the CAAC locked their Weibo post to comments and closed a portion of their website.

The frustration these students feel in part comes from seeing their home country present a narrative of “re-opening” while other nations affected by the novel coronavirus have allowed their students to travel back. As Junming Cui, a Chinese student studying at NYU for the year, told RADII, “I have many friends here in New York City, I have Korean friends, I have Japanese friends, they all flew back in April. Only mainland Chinese are stuck in this situation.”

Cui also points out that certain groups, such as foreign executives, can still enter and exit the country, but no similar allowance appears to have been made for overseas students. To him and thousands of young students far from home, exemptions like this leave a bitter taste.

Lakshmi Iyengar
    Lakshmi Iyengar is a Yenching Scholar studying health, economics, and modern China. Before moving to Beijing, she majored in Biomedical Engineering at Yale. Follow her on twitter @vlakshmiiyengar for insights on China and life