India looking to hit China back, advises airlines not to fly in Chinese nationals

Chinese nationals have been travelling first to a country with which India has a bilateral air bubble agreement and then flying into India

India looking to hit China back, advises airlines not to fly in Chinese nationals
Indian flag carrier Air India (foreground) and Chinese flag carrier Air China. Image courtesy: aminoapps

China, despite being the epicentre of the novel coronavirus that had brought the entire world to a virtual standstill this year, continues to be incorrigible. The Chinese government has not only refused to let Indian flyers into the country, but it also has not allowed almost 1,500 Indian seafarers onshore or even to change crew, as a result of which these sailors serving on international flag merchant vessels continue to be stranded in Chinese ports.

The Chinese have, however, been sneaking into India through the back door, travelling first to a country with which India has a bilateral air bubble agreement, and then flying into India. Chinese nationals living in India's air bubble partner countries have also been flying to India for work or business. 

However, the Indian government is showing signs that it is not willing to take this lying down. According to a Times of India report, as retaliation to China's tough stance against Indian nationals, the Indian government has advised airlines -- both Indian and foreign -- not to carry Chinese nationals into the country. However, it is still at an informal level. 

Some of the airlines reportedly have asked the government for a written order on the basis of which they can deny boarding to Chinese nationals who had booked flights to India under the current norms. 

India does not have an air bubble pact with China and tourist visas continue to be suspended considering the ban on scheduled commercial international air travel that India continues to maintain since March 23 in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, foreign nationals are allowed to travel to India for work or on some other categories of non-tourist visas.  

Industry sources said that most of the Chinese nationals have been flying into India from the air bubble countries in Europe. India currently has air bubble arrangements with France, Germany, Ukraine and Netherlands among the European countries. The air bubble pact with the UK has been temporarily suspended in view of the new and more infectious strain of coronavirus detected in that country. 

Also read: Hardeep Singh Puri says UK flight ban may be extended, but no cause for anxiety

In November, China had banned the entry of foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits from certain countries, including India. China had announced that the Chinese embassy/consulates in India will not stamp the health declaration forms of holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits. Certain categories of people like diplomats, however, were exempted. 

China's decision came after 20 passengers of an Air India Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight from Delhi to Wuhan on October 30 tested positive for the coronavirus. Another 40 people were discovered to be carrying Covid-19 antibodies on arrival. 

The Indian sailors stuck in Chinese ports, on the other hand, have been the victims of collateral damage. Though China wants to target Australia, whose coal is banned in that country, the Chinese government has refused to provide relief for the Indian seafarers who can't even return home. The Chinese foreign ministry has put the onus on the local authorities, who have not been of great help either. 

China's special administrative region of Hong Kong suspends carriers for 14 days if five or more people on any single flight test Covid-positive on arrival. Hong Kong has banned Air India four times and Vistara once so far. 

Also read: Britain quarantined! India bans UK flights with new coronavirus strain 'out of control'

This is not the first time this year that India has gone toe-to-toe with China. India had tweaked its foreign direct investment (FDI) policy to prevent "opportunistic takeover" of Indian firms hit by the lockdown that was imposed on March 25. India had said that any entity of a country that shares a land border with India would be allowed to invest in firms in India only if the Indian government approves. 

While the government did not name any specific country, it was widely believed that the move was aimed at China. The Indian Express pointed out that China's FDI had jumped five-fold since 2014 and its cumulative investments in India had exceeded $8 billion as of December 2019. It is far more than that of any other country that India shares a land border with. According to Brookings India, the total current and planned Chinese investment in India is over $26 billion. India's decision also followed the Chinese central bank (People Bank of China) increasing its shareholding in HDFC to over 1%.      

Right on cue, China cried foul and said India's move was a violation of international trade principles and called on India to revise these "discriminatory practices". The European Union (EU) and Australia too had imposed similar conditions earlier, which were also deemed to be targeted at China. 

In June, the troops of the two countries engaged in a bloody clash in the Galwan Valley along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that resulted in the death of soldiers from both sides. Following this, India took a number of punitive measures against China. There were strident calls for boycotting Chinese goods too and according to a Business Today report, Chinese exports to India since January had fallen by nearly 25% year-on-year to $32.28 billion.