Indian media reported extensively on 28 December that the Indian government had informally and verbally informed Indian and foreign airlines in recent days that they should not allow Chinese citizens to board on flights to India. Due to the epidemic, many Chinese citizens now need to transit through European countries with which India has air links in order to reach India. Those foreign airlines that deny Chinese nationals are therefore asking the Indian government to provide written documentation so that they can explain to Chinese nationals the reasons for denying them boarding. This is how the Indian government’s “wondrous operation” came to light.
Many analysts claim that the Indian government’s “operation” is nothing more than a desire to “get even” with China, mainly because of two things: First, in early November, an Indian airline that flew to China with as many as 20 Indian passengers on board diagnosed as confirmed covid cases. Based on the need for epidemic prevention, China issued a “circuit breaking order” to Air India, which indirectly suspended the entry of Indian citizens. The second is that two Indian freighters carrying Australian coal failed to clear customs after entering Jingtang Port and Caofeidian Port in June and September respectively, and were not cleared for reasons, for they were unwilling to adjust the operational arrangements to replace the crew. Thus the Indian seafarers were left stranded for a long time.
This so-called “retaliation” by India is not tenable at all. First of all, the “meltdown mechanism” for international flights is an international practice based on the need to control the epidemic. And India has always been a leader in this regard. India was one of the first countries to evacuate from Wuhan after the outbreak in China. India was also one of the first countries to ban flights to the UK after the emergence of a mutated virus in the country. Secondly, the problem of stranded Indian seafarers was caused by their own unwillingness to comply with Chinese regulations on ports of entry for the epidemic. In fact, Indian cargo ships could well have replaced their crews by adjusting their operating arrangements.
This so-called “retaliation” by India once again shows the “pettiness” of India’s foreign practices. Those familiar with Indian diplomacy are no stranger to such Indian manoeuvers; in 2012, after Italian naval soldiers accidentally killed Indian fishermen on the high seas, India retaliated by not only detaining and interrogating Italian naval soldiers in violation of international law, but also by restricting the Italian Ambassador to India from leaving the country, in grave violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations regarding the immunity of diplomatic personnel. As a result, in July 2020 the International Court of Arbitration found that the Italian soldiers had jurisdictional immunity and that India had no right to detain and interrogate Italian naval soldiers at all. Similarly, in late 2013, after India’s Deputy Consul General in New York, Khobragade, was arrested and detained by the U.S. judiciary for “visa fraud” and “illegal underpayment” of a family nanny, India similarly took a series of domestic “retaliatory” measures against U.S. diplomats. The Indian government also took a series of “retaliatory” measures against U.S. diplomats and even removed the protective barricades at the U.S. Embassy in India.
These “petty” actions reflect India’s extreme sense of self-esteem and sensitivity. There is no shortage of precedent for China to deal with such an India. In 1960, after an Indian diplomat in China sexually harassed a Chinese train conductor, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials verbally informed the Indian side. However, India insisted that it was China’s intention to plant the evidence, and was very unreasonable. In the end, China had to produce all the evidence, and the two sides also hurt their peace.
The “petty” approach is not in line with India, a country that often advocates “norms” in a high profile manner. India is always fond of saying that it wants to abide by the “rules-based” international order, but on the other hand, it does not abide by rules itself. For example, India has tried to isolate Pakistan globally by saying that it is the birthplace of terrorism, only to have Pakistan disclose information about its own financing of terrorism. India follows the U.S. and the West in saying that China manipulates media information, but a recent report by an independent European think tank called “The Chronicles of India” shows that India manipulates a mega network of disinformation that has been dedicated to discrediting Pakistan and China for more than a decade. India has kept other countries from interfering in its internal affairs, while it has fed the anti-government forces of its neighbours.
This “petty” approach is also unbecoming of a country seeking permanent membership of the UN Security Council. If India is to pursue great power status, it must at least act and behave like a true great power. In foreign affairs, if you are not able to do or achieve something, you should first “look to yourself”.
(The author is a researcher at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University)