Beijing, January 19:

China on Tuesday declined to give a deadline for the return of Indian students studying in the country who are stranded in India, saying its decision not to allow foreign students to return was based on the global Covid-19 pandemic situation.

Every country is formulating pandemic-control measures according to the situation on ground, and China’s first priority is to prevent the spread of the disease, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

The ministry said Chinese students are facing the same problem despite spending money to study abroad.

More than 23,000 Indian students study in China, most of them enrolled in medical universities.

All but a handful had returned to India in a staggered manner in 2020 following the Covid-19 outbreak in China but are now stranded in their home country because Beijing has banned foreign students from returning to universities.

“I totally understand this situation including the difficulties faced by the Indian students. Indeed, such problems widely exist globally. Many Chinese students spend much money on overseas studies but due to Covid-19 they still can’t resume their studies overseas and they have to take online courses. This is the last thing we hope to see,” Hua Chunying, foreign ministry spokesperson said at a regular ministry briefing on Tuesday.

“Surely, we hope to see the solidarity and joint fight by the international community, we can defeat the virus and our students can return to campus. But the reality is that we are seeing the reality of the rising second wave of Covid-19 (infections) across the world. And countries are formulating their anti-epidemic prevention measures according to the situation on ground,” she said.

“And our purpose is to protect the safety and health of overseas students. Chinese universities are required to handle their legitimate concerns. We will handle that matter in a coordinated and overall manner. So, we have to take into (account) many factors, priority is for us to join hands to fight against Covid (pandemic) and prevail over the virus. This is something we all are hoping to see,” Hua said.

Hua added that the Covid-19 pandemic is raging across the world and countries have formulated their epidemic prevention measures based on their national conditions.

“In principle, China attaches high importance to the protection of their rights of the overseas students. We request the universities and the colleges to stay in communication with them and ensure the courses online and any other format. We also hope to stay in communication with all parties in this regard,” Hua added.

According to China’s education ministry, until the end of 2018, 4,92,185 international students from 196 countries and regions were studying in China.

With 23,198 students, India was fourth on the list of a country-wise breakup of students studying in China.

South Korea with more than 50,000 students topped it followed by Thailand and Pakistan with over 28,000 students each studying in China.