In a strong retaliatory push, India has asked all airlines informally not to fly Chinese nationals into the country. This comes after China’s not-so-subtle move to stop Indians from flying into their country, something that has only tightened since November.
While flights between India and China are currently suspended, Chinese nationals eligible to travel as per current norms for foreigners have been doing so by first flying to a third country with which India has a travel bubble. And from there, they fly to India. In addition, Chinese nationals living in air bubble countries have also been flying to India from there for work and business.
Over the past weekend, airlines — both Indian and foreign — have been specifically asked not to fly Chinese nationals to India. At the moment tourist visas to India remain suspended but foreigners are allowed to travel here on work and some other categories of non-tourist visas. Industry sources say a majority of Chinese nationals flying to India have been coming from air bubble countries in Europe.
Some airlines, it is learned, asked the authorities to give them something in writing so that they can give reason for denying boarding to Chinese nationals booked on flights to India as per current norms.
New Delhi’s response comes when Indian seafarers are stranded in various Chinese ports because China is refusing to allow them on shore, or even to change crew. This has affected almost 1,500 Indians serving on international flag merchant vessels as they can’t even come back home.
Though the target is Australia, whose coal is now banned by China, Indians seafarers have taken a big collateral hit and Beijing does not seem to be willing to organise immediate relief. Questioned this week, the Chinese foreign ministry lobbed the ball back in the courts of local authorities. But officials say there are no permissions forthcoming from any local authority. The Chinese government has given a list of steps to be followed, but, Indian officials say, they are designed to frustrate efforts.
In early November, China had suspended the entry of foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits from some countries including India due to the pandemic. “The Chinese embassy/consulates in India will not stamp the health declaration forms for the holders of the above-mentioned categories of visa or residence permits,” the Chinese embassy in India had said in a statement on its website on November 5, while exempting some categories of visa holders like diplomats.
“The entry into China with visas issued after November 3, 2020 is not affected… suspension is a temporary measurement that China has to adopt to deal with the current pandemic. China will make further adjustment and announcement in accordance with the ongoing pandemic situation in a timely manner,” the statement had said.
China’s decision had come after almost 20 passengers of an Air India Vande Bharat Mission Delhi-Wuhan flight of October 30 had tested Covid positive and another 40 were found to have Covid antibodies on arrival.
China’s special administrative region of Hong Kong suspends airlines for 14 days if five or more passengers on any single flight test positive on arrival. Hong Kong has so far barred AI four times and Vistara once during the pandemic for this reason.