Russian ban on Chinese visitors regrettable but understandable: experts

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/19 12:58:52

The Palace Bridge is lit in red to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 24, 2020. Photo:Xinhua

China and Russia, two major world powers that share broad common ground and have close strategic ties, have seen some divergences regarding the coronavirus epidemic situation, as the Russian government announced a temporary ban on Chinese citizens from entering Russia for tourism, work or for private purposes.

"The decision taken by the Russian government is temporary, so we hope it will have very limited impact on Russia-China trade relations," the Russian Embassy in China told the Global Times Wednesday.

Russia informed China through diplomatic channels in advance before issuing the ban, Geng Shuang, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

Russia firmly supports China's fight against the epidemic and strongly believes that China will emerge victorious. Russia has taken restrictive measures for their own good. But the ban is not designed to hinder people-to-people exchanges. The temporary measures will be adjusted or cancelled if the epidemic situation improves, Geng said.

Geng said that as for stakeholders affected by the restrictions, such as students who are unable to return to Russia on time, Russia will take measures such as online remote teaching to ensure the total number of courses continue unchanged. 

The decree prohibiting Chinese nationals from entering Russia was signed by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Tuesday evening, according to a report by RT. Chinese analysts said Russia is experiencing a crucial period of domestic political adjustment, and President Vladimir Putin would not like to see any unpredictable emergency interrupt Russia at this moment.

Russia's new precautionary move amid the coronavirus epidemic starting from Thursday is a bit of an overreaction, Chinese experts noted, it's regrettable but due to Russia's basic medical conditions and shortage of medical resources, it is also understandable for Moscow to make the hard decision for the health of its own people, adding that Russia has also been one of the most supportive partners of China during the epidemic situation, so the ban won't hurt bilateral ties too much. 

Russia is taking a responsible measure to ensure the safety of its own citizens, which China and Chinese people understand, but it doesn't have to ban all Chinese visitors, experts noted, calling on Russia not to overreact on the matter.

Banning all Chinese visitors is an arbitrary decision, given the gradual improvement in coronavirus prevention and control work in China, and it goes against the goodwill that Chinese people have for Russia, Zhang Hong, a research fellow from the Institute of Russia, Eastern European and Central Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times.

But the China-Russia relationship is built on a great deal of trust, and is not as fragile as others think. The Chinese visitor ban at this special time does not and will not cast a shadow over our friendship in the long term, Zhao Huirong, a research fellow from the Institute of Russia, Eastern European and  Central Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. 

Last weekend, 23 tons of medical supplies donated by Russia arrived in Wuhan, the epicenter, and Russia vowed to dispatch medical experts to help China combat the virus, which was welcomed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as a demonstration of "the high level of our comprehensive strategic partnership" and "deep bond of mutual assistance."

Some Western media have been hyping that Russia was slow to make donations to China amid the epidemic, and swiftly closed its borders, suggesting cracks in bilateral ties.

Russia's temporary travel ban comes mainly from self-protection and is not because Russia is seeking this chance to suppress China. There is no possibility that Russia and the US will join hands against China, said Cui Heng, a post-doctorate researcher from the Centre for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

It has to be noted that Russia did not issue the ban when China was in its most difficult epidemic control period, while the US and Australia banned Chinese travelers at an early stage. If Russia had implemented the ban at that time, it would have made things more difficult for China, Cui told the Global Times. 

Experts said the Russian government faces strong domestic pressure, which may be due to internal nervousness following the recent shake-up in the Russian government. As Putin is changing the Constitution and the new government is pushing forward national strategies, they don't want to be disturbed by external factors. If the constitutional amendment and strategic projects are delayed because of the epidemic, it will mess up Putin's plan for a power transfer, Cui said.

Its undeveloped public health system, especially in its Far East region,  has led the country to adopt such measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, experts noted. 

A recent report by the Moscow Times said that Russia only reported two cases of corona-virus, who were Chinese citizens and have since recovered. The first infected Russian was found on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan.

RT reported that previously, Russian Railways suspended all passenger traffic to and from China, and flights have been heavily restricted. In addition, border crossings in the Far East have been closed.

Zhang warned that the ban would hinder people-to-people exchanges and trade. The export of light industrial products to Russia would be reduced but the ban won't affect oil and natural gas, the main export product from Russia, due to the construction of a special pipeline. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidelines that suggest countries do not need to set travel and trade restrictions amid the coronavirus situation.

A total of 133 countries and regions have imposed entry restrictions on Chinese citizens or people who have visited China, according to the Chinese National Immigration Agency on Sunday. 

Newspaper headline: Russian ban on Chinese visitors understandable: experts

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