Fragile relations: Handle with care

Domestic laws are sacrosanct, but if they are handled deftly, they can avert unpleasant instances.

The reported incident of manhandling of Indian diplomat S Balachandran of the Indian consulate –general in Shanghai on December 31 by the local traders and Chinese officials in Yiwu in China was unfortunate. It augurs well, however, that the situation was handled well by the Chinese authorities.

Such incidents, however, sully people’s attitudes towards each other’s countries. People’s perception does matter in the bilateral relations between the two countries, more so when it is relationship between India and China.

The two countries fought a war, practise two different political systems and compete for resources and identity in the comity of nations. At a time when trade volume between the two countries has crossed $60 billion and is projected to reach $1,000 billion by 2015, it is but natural that there would be increase in the number of people migrating to each country for business and job opportunities. This is evident from the number of flights and passenger traffic between the two countries. In fact, if one boards a China-bound flight from any Indian airport, the volume in passenger traffic is palpable and similarly one feels at home at the check-in counters of India-bound flight at any Chinese airport.

Although the number may not be the same as in case of the US or Canada, now many Indian families have some member or other working in China and the number is increasing. In such a scenario, issues of dispute and discord are bound to arise . There are also unscrupulous elements, in the trading business between the two countries, who would always be eager to make a quick buck.

There is also the problem of communication, language, culture, and custom. It is incumbent on part of the bureaucrats and diplomats at the ground level to be more sensitive to such issues. There are international laws, customs, and conventions to govern and regulate such dealings and those need to be followed scrupulously. Domestic laws are sacrosanct, but if they are handled deftly, they can avert unpleasant and unsavoury instances like the trauma that the Indian diplomat and the traders underwent at Yiwu.

In recent past both India and China handled two such cases very deftly in recent past. It may be recalled that in September 2009 three Chinese engineers of the Shadong Electric Power Construction Corporation of China working in the Vedanta – controlled Balco chimney at Korba were accused in the collapse of the chimney which claimed 40 lives, and injured six.

The local administration and the police handled the situation very thoughtfully and swiftly avoiding any kind of backlash.The Chinese were immediately given police protection and were taken to Bilashpur to avoid wrath of the local people. A fair amount of leniency was shown to them without compromising the legal and judicial procedure of the country.

In yet another case, the Chinese authorities in Shenzen, near Hong Kong, detained 22 India diamond traders in January 2010 on charges of evading $7.3 million in customs duties. After protracted judicial procedure for about two years, finally a court in Shenzen pronounced a relatively lighter punishment bringing relief to the excruciating agony and anxiety to the accused and their family members. According to the court verdict, 13 traders were allowed to be deported to India, while the remaining were given jail terms between three to six years. Some of the traders in the meanwhile have returned to India.

It is believed that the accused were given lighter sentences. The issue was taken up by India at the highest level by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, the then foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, Indian ambassador to China S Jaishanker and the the Indian consulate general in Guangzhou. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi also took up the cause during his recent visit to China prior to pronouncement of the verdict. The deft handling of these two cases was admirable and reflected the goodwill of the two governments.

The unfortunate incident involving Balachandran took place at a time when the two countries are trying very hard at various levels not only to sustain the momentum of their bilateral relation, but also to take strengthen further in spite of issues like India’s foray into South China Sea and recent postponement of talks between the special representatives.

Beijing recently claimed that ‘there is no power in the world that can prevent the development of bilateral relations between the two countries’. The swift action that Chinese authority took for the safety and security for the detained traders is another instance of cooperation and understanding between the two countries. Balachandran deserves to be commended by one and all for his exemplary devotion and dedication to duty.

(The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)

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