Indian diplomat's ill-treatment risks feeding anti-China bias

By B Raman

The alleged ill-treatment of S Balachandran - an Indian diplomat posted in the Consulate-General in Shanghai - and two Indian employees of a Yemeni firm, by Chinese authorities in the city of Yiwu , about 300 km from Shanghai, has led to a strong protest by the Government of India to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.

The incident started with the illegal detention and ill-treatment of two Indian employees of the Yemeni firm, by local Chinese traders and authorities who allegedly held them accountable for the failure of the Yemeni firm to pay its dues to local Chinese traders. It has been further alleged that the China-based Yemeni head of the company disappeared making the Indian employees face the wrath of the Chinese traders and authorities.

When Balachandran went to Yiwu to provide consular assistance to the two Indians and get them released, he himself became the victim of ill-treatment by the authorities and the court that was dealing with the case against the Indians. It has been reported that Balachandran, who is a severe diabetic, was denied access to food for nearly six hours during which period he had to remain in court. He reportedly collapsed as a result.

 Indian diplomats ill-treatment risks feeding anti-China bias

An employee at a textile factory in Yiwu. The Chinese town in Zhejiang province has a large population of Indians doing business. Reuters

There is so far no reason to believe that any official of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was involved in the incident. The ill-treatment allegedly meted out to Balachandran and the two Indian employees of the Yemeni firm, was apparently the work of the local authorities, who seem to have been acting at the behest of the Chinese traders to whom the Yemeni company owed money.

The incident illustrates the dangers of foreigners doing business in some small towns of China where local authorities often collude with the local Chinese businessmen in harassing foreign businessmen and traders.

At the same time, this incident has come in the wake of the detention of a number of Indian diamond merchants by the Chinese authorities for months, following allegations of illegal trading practices by them.

There are many instances of collusion between local authorities and Chinese businessmen and traders who have unresolved disputes with foreigners. The Chinese authorities in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs have generally not been known for their vigorous intervention in such matters. They tend to treat casually complaints of misbehaviour and ill-treatment by their local authorities and businessmen.

The Government of India should insist on strong action against those responsible in this case while discouraging our media from blowing the incident out of proportion. At a time when there is still considerable prejudice against the Chinese in sections of the Indian civil society, such incidents will create a bad taste in our mouth and tend to strengthen anti-Chinese prejudices.

B Raman is Additional Secretary (Retired) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai; and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre for China Studies.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 06:03:43 IST