By B. Raman
The alleged ill-treatment of S. Balachandran, an Indian diplomat posted in the Consulate in Shanghai, and two Indian employees of an Yemeni firm by local Chinese authorities in the city of Yiwu , about 300 kms from Shanghai, has led to a strong protest by the Government of India to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on January 2, 2012.
The incident started with the illegal detention and ill-treatment of the 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 the city 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 which 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.
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 by the local authorities who seem to have been acting at the behest of the Chinese to whom the Yemeni company owed money.
The incident illustrates the dangers of foreigners doing business in some small towns of China where the 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. Collusion of local Chinese authorities with Chinese businessmen and traders having unresolved disputes with foreigners is often seen and the Chinese authorities in their 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 against their local authorities and businessmen.
The Government of India should insist on strong action against those responsible in the instant 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 would create a bad taste in our mouth and tend to strengthen the anti-Chinese prejudices.