THE Indian government’s decision to informally tell airlines not to fly Chinese nationals into the country is not merely a precautionary measure aimed at checking the spread of Covid-19. There is more to it than meets the eye, even as China had suspended all special air operations from India with effect from early November, citing the rising number of coronavirus cases on Vande Bharat Mission flights. The eight-month-old border standoff has impacted India-China dealings in myriad ways. Last week, the External Affairs Ministry expressed concern over two cargo vessels with a total of 39 Indians on board being on anchorage in Chinese waters for months as these were not being allowed to unload their shipment, though some other ships had managed to do so.
One of these vessels, MV Jag Anand, stranded near Jingtang port in Hebei province since June, is carrying a huge consignment of Australian coal. Despite repeated requests, China is neither allowing the ships to be docked nor their crew to be changed, while insisting that it is only adhering to the stipulations on quarantine measures. China’s claim that these developments are not linked to its strained ties with India as well as Australia does not hold water. Last month, China had taken exception to Australia’s decision to take part in the Malabar naval exercise that also featured India, the US and Japan. With Canberra barring Chinese telecom giant Huawei from its national 5G network over security concerns, besides raising the pitch for an international inquiry into the origin of the virus, Beijing has retaliated by restricting several Australian exports, including coal.
India’s latest move will hurt China’s business interests as the latter’s nationals have been travelling to this country for work and trade purposes even during the pandemic. Though India has made a statement by imposing travel curbs, it needs to redouble efforts to end the maritime stalemate and provide relief to the harried crew members. New Delhi should go all out to expose the double standards being adopted by Beijing while implementing Covid-19 regulations.