China Covid: U.S. Testing Rule Meets a Collective Shrug


Some Chinese were disappointed by the Biden administration’s new testing requirement for travelers coming from their country. Others radiated contempt, calling it the latest Western effort to contain China’s rise. But many were simply indifferent.

For many Chinese, the U.S. rule that they must present negative Covid tests to visit is a tangential development. China is grappling with severe outbreaks that have sickened countless people and overwhelmed hospitals and funeral parlors. Many are focused on trying to hold on to their jobs and homes as the economy sputters.

And to many of those who have been considering travel, an extra Covid test is not a major inconvenience. Such testing had until recently been — for many tens of millions of citizens — a near-daily routine mandated by the authorities. And Chinese tourists know that they’re welcome in a lot of places across Asia and beyond.

“It’s just a Covid test before traveling,” said Li Kuan, 33, a software engineer at a technology start-up in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. “We’ve been doing a bunch of tests like this for the past three years.”

Italy, South Korea and Japan have recently imposed similar travel restrictions, and India now requires negative Covid test results and random screening at airports for passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, as well as from Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

On Thursday in China, the Communist Party’s main propaganda outlets, usually quick to criticize countries that impose restrictions on Chinese travelers, appeared to downplay the U.S. news. The C.D.C. rule itself was barely mentioned on many of the party’s main platforms.

Some sites instead highlighted the positive reception China’s easing has been getting in other countries. “China’s new measures ‘enhance global economic hope,’” read the headline of an article in the Global Times, the Communist Party newspaper.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that China’s official media could be wary of reporting too much on the U.S. restriction out of fear that doing so would draw attention to China’s domestic outbreaks and fuel public anger.

“If you talk about this too much, you’re bound to make mistakes,” he said.

For Beijing, it could be difficult to make the argument that the United States should not impose a testing requirement, when China itself still plans to maintain one, even after it eases the rules. The government will require incoming travelers to show a negative polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., test within 48 hours before departure.

At a routine news briefing in Beijing on Thursday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, did not directly address the Biden administration’s move. He repeated talking points Beijing has used in the past week as some countries started imposing limits on Chinese travelers, saying that those pandemic measures should be “scientific and appropriate.”

But this time, he made a pointed reference to the question of discrimination, saying that such measures should also “treat citizens of all countries equally.”

Some Chinese citizens shrugged off the U.S. testing requirement, calling it a minor inconvenience for a population that has grown accustomed to near-constant P.C.R. testing throughout the pandemic.

China’s Covid-era testing requirements for international travelers have been “way more complicated” than what the United States is now requiring of travelers from the country, said Wang Xiaofei, 29, who works for a technology company in the southern megacity of Shenzhen.

“It is what it is,” she said of the testing policy, adding that she would still travel to the United States if she had the opportunity. “Just cooperate.”

Others were less accommodating.

Iris Su, 22, a university student in New York City, said that her parents, who live in the eastern city of Qingdao, had been thinking of visiting her after the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday in late January. “Now they aren’t so sure,” she said. “They are a bit unhappy with the U.S. restrictions.”

Ms. Su said she saw the C.D.C. rule as a political move, not a scientific one. “Ultimately, this is all confrontation between great powers,” she added.

Several epidemiologists said on Thursday that the new U.S. policy would be ineffective, based on evidence from other places — including Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, where a raft of testing requirements for incoming travelers earlier this year failed to prevent a sharp rise in the number of imported cases.

Karen Grépin, a global health policy expert at the University of Hong Kong, said that while the C.D.C.’s new rule may prevent superspreader conditions on airplanes, it would not stop new variants — just as earlier bans on international travel did very little to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

“What we should really be doing now as a global community is thinking about how to support the Chinese people through this transition, not shutting them off,” she said.

It was unclear on Thursday how or whether the new C.D.C. rule would affect China’s delicate relationship with the United States. When President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s powerful leader, met in Indonesia last month, they appeared eager for a soft reset of a relationship that had been careening toward confrontation. Yet the relationship remains stuck at its lowest point in years amid disagreements over the future of Taiwan, technology restrictions and China’s mass detentions of its citizens, among other issues.

Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, described the C.D.C. rule as “epidemiologically unconvincing and diplomatically unjustified.”

“The overall reopening should be encouraged,” he said, referring to China’s plan to gradually dismantle its Covid testing infrastructure and travel restrictions. “Now you’re giving Chinese people the impression that you’re punishing them.”

Mr. Huang said that he sympathized with international criticism of China’s perceived reluctance to share coronavirus data with other countries. But he also worries that the C.D.C. requirement may be fodder forChinese nationalists who argue that the United States is trying to contain China’s rise.



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