China plans to order most foreign students to leave Beijing before the Olympic Games in August, strictly regulate the issuing of business and tourist visas, and deport refugees, sources said yesterday.
“Even if you have to continue your studies in September, you need to leave Beijing in July and August,” a spokeswoman for Beijing University said.
The university is one of China’s most prestigious colleges and enrolls hundreds of foreign students annually on Chinese-language and other courses.
The spokeswoman from Beijing University’s international cooperation department said the two-month gap applies to all universities in Beijing and was ordered by “higher authorities” because of the Olympics.
She said all short-term summer courses for foreigners had been canceled this year.
One Western education official estimated that at least 10,000 students could be affected by the order if it applied to the whole country, though some universities outside Beijing said they were unaware of the rule.
The head of the German academic exchange, the DAAD, said a ban on foreign students during the Olympics was not mentioned in recent meetings with officials.
An administrator of dormitories for foreigners at Tongji University in Shanghai said her department had received no notice banning students during the Olympics.
But a woman who assists foreign students in China said at least two universities outside Beijing, Anhui Normal University and Heilongjiang University, had stopped recruiting foreign students for courses running beyond July.
She said she believed any students with visas until the end of this year would be allowed to stay in Beijing, but she added that most student visas would expire in June before the universities’ normal summer vacation.
A foreign ministry official said he was unaware of any ban on students but the normal education of foreign students “will be guaranteed.”
The official China Daily said about 190,000 foreign students from 188 nations attended courses in China last year.
Asked for comment last night, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Vice Chairman Liu Teh-hsun (劉德勳) said he was unaware of the developments, but that the council would monitor the situation.
China has already severely restricted the issuing of short-term and multi-entry business visas, prompting complaints from business groups and diplomats.
Some Beijing-based businesses said they may be unable to fill vacancies until after the Olympics because of the new restrictions.
“You can be sure that all countries affected will raise the issue with the Chinese side very intensively,” one informed source said of the restrictions on business visas.
“It clearly has to do with the Olympics,” the source said.
China appears to have acted partly in response to recent reports that police uncovered at least two terrorist plots targeting the Olympics, the source said, adding that other nations had taken similar security measures in the past.
China’s Foreign Ministry yesterday defended the move and said visas were issued “according to law.”
“I believe it will have no influence on normal business activities in China,” ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said.
But Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, yesterday criticized China for limiting business visas issued in Hong Kong.
Wuttke called the restrictions “truly annoying” and charged that the new visa rules were unclear and had never been published.
The new measures, which an informed source said were temporary, require non-permanent Hong Kong residents to apply for visas in their home countries.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said it was concerned about the deportation of vulnerable refugees from China before the Olympics.
In a statement posted on its Web site, UNHCR highlighted the case of a 17-year-old unaccompanied refugee who was returned to his country of origin after being taken from his home in Beijing on April 3.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said that some of the deportations among the 180 refugees recorded by UNHCR in China “may well constitute a violation” of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
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