Across these WeChat groups, there are new petitions every few days asking students for personal information, which is redundant as every international student studying in China is already required to complete their registration procedure with their details.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, China has introduced strict rules for foreign arrivals. Although the novel coronavirus appears to have started here, China has been more successful than most countries in bringing the pandemic under control.
The Chinese Communist Party, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, does not want to jeopardise its domestic stability ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Hence, China is unlikely to allow international students to return anytime soon, notwithstanding protests or petitions.
A more effective approach would be for official in Kathmandu to talk to their Chinese counterparts at a government-to-government level, since that fits in better with China’s top-down approach to doing things.
Furthermore, due to the existing language barrier and China’s restrictive internet policies like ‘The Great Firewall’, concerns that are primarily raised in English through platforms like Twitter and Instagram have little to no reach in China. Students have managed to raise awareness, but among themselves and not on the right platforms.
Articles written in Mandarin by Chinese authors about the situation of international students do not have enough reach either, since they have mostly been from personal WeChat blogs. Mainstream Chinese media on the other hand has not touched the issue of international students, and there has been no discussion on popular interactive social media platforms like Weibo, which has over 500 million active users.
Similarly, the complaints and petitions brought up by students are mostly conveyed in English or Nepali, which are not effective with a Chinese audience.
Student protest is a widely used tool to pressure the authorities and fulfil demands for change in Nepali colleges and universities. That process will not work in China, or with Chinese universities. The petitions and protests may be heard, but do not guarantee sufficient pressure for those in decision-making positions.
In fact, students who once believed in protests have since lost hope. An informal survey on WeChat groups by over 100 Nepali students waiting to go back to universities revealed that the majority no longer believe it is a route that can help them return to China.