Updated: Jun 2
May 3, 2020 by Logan Wang
The Chinese word for country, 国家, comprises of two characters: state and home. Almost two months into the Covid-19 global pandemic, millions of Chinese citizens, scattered around the world, unable to continue their usual lives, seek passage back to China. Short of an actual prohibition, the Chinese government is doing everything it can to discourage its citizens from returning to the land itself calls home.
On March 26, the Chinese government enacted its temporary travel prohibition, effectively banning all foreign nationals from entering China. This policy was not widely controversial – the United States, the UK, Canada, and many others have implemented similar restrictions. Where the Chinese policy stands out is the treatment of its own citizens. On the basis of attempting to “contain” the spread of the virus, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA), a government bureau, decided to allow every airline to operate only one flight to China per week, in addition to seating no more than 75% of each flight’s maximum occupancy. The combination of airlines incurring financial loss and the decrease in ticket supply immediately led to an enormous surge in ticket price. Later that week, premium flight company DeerJet released 29 tickets from London to Shanghai each costing 180,000 Chinese Yuan (approx. 35,000 CAD). According to Deerjet, over a hundred reservations were placed within a week.
Over 11 million Chinese citizens live overseas, many of whom continue to root their livelihoods in China. My parents and brother travelled to Canada late in January for my brother’s school interview. They planned a two-week trip and expected to be home in Beijing by early February. Their flight was cancelled twice in February, twice in March, and once again in April. When they do return, whenever that will be, the government mandates that they stay at a hotel in a city far away from Beijing for 14 days without leaving their rooms, all self-financed. In contrast, between February and April, the American, Canadian, British, and many other governments sent planes to repatriate their citizens from far away places, free of charge, and placed the repatriated individuals in hotels, free of charge.
There are good reasons for the Chinese government to discourage international arrivals. Air and long-distance travel increase the risk of virus transmission and with the decreasing rate of spread in China, the Chinese government would naturally want to limit movement from beyond its borders. Yet the Chinese government’s treatment of its citizens calls into question the worth of China’s citizenship. As a citizen, an individual pays taxes, abides by laws, and contributes to society. In return, they deserve the government’s provision of safety and security as a minimum.
In an era of resurging nationalistic and isolationist sentiments, to turn away one of your own citizens at the door is betrayal. The tightly controlled political climate in China will drain out voices of dissent in the short term. But the tide can only bury political disagreement, it can never destroy it. When it comes to judging politicians and governments, however late history may be, it always gets there eventually.
Logan Wang ('20) is a Managing Editor at SPR.