Sports Minister will skip Asiad inaugural as China bars entry of Arunachal players

Sports Minister will skip Asiad inaugural as China bars entry of Arunachal players

The Ministry of External Affairs rejects ‘differential treatment of citizens based on domicile or ethnicity’

Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur on Friday cancelled his visit to the Asian Games, due to China’s denial of entry to Indian Wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh, even as the government registered an official protest at the decision.

The three players – Nyeman Wangsu, Onilu Tega and Mepung Lamgu – were refused entry despite having e-accreditations from the organisers. While Ms. Wangsu could not board the flight at all, the other two were told they could only travel till Hong Kong. With no further development and their event scheduled for Sunday, it seems unlikely they will be able to participate.

Government officials in New Delhi said they were surprised by China’s treatment of the three sportspersons from Arunachal Pradesh who had valid accreditation, and hence took strong action in return. Despite ongoing tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control, Mr. Thakur, who also holds the portfolios of Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs, was scheduled to travel to Hangzhou for the inauguration of the Asian Games by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday. It was only after the Ministry of External Affairs learnt on Friday, that the sportspersons had been stopped from boarding their flight from Delhi late on Thursday night, that the decision was taken to cancel the ministerial visit, and to lodge protests with Beijing.


The airline, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific’s ground staff in Delhi eventually allowed two of the Arunachal residents to board their flight to Hong Kong, but they were then prevented from going on to Hangzhou. Officials said they believed that all three had received their accreditation cards, in what was possibly an “oversight” by Chinese sporting officials, and therefore “instructions” were given by Chinese authorities to stop them from boarding at the last minute. According to the protocol for the Asian Games, all sportspersons were given accreditation cards, which served as visas for entry into China, and not visas on their passports.

An official told The Hindu that it could not have been a “coincidence” that the three sportpersons targeted were all from Arunachal Pradesh.

‘Targeted discrimination’

“The Government of India has learnt that the Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

“In line with our long-standing and consistent position, India firmly rejects differential treatment of Indian citizens on the basis of domicile or ethnicity… A strong protest has been lodged in New Delhi and Beijing against China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons… Further, as a mark of our protest against the Chinese action, Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports of India has cancelled his scheduled visit to China for the Games,” he said.

OCA raising issue

Ironically, the decision came on the day that the Indian flag was hoisted and the Indian contingent was officially welcomed into the Athletes’ Village. Earlier in the day, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the Games organising committee made statements on the Asian Games being an “inclusive event for all sports lovers of Asia”, but refused to comment on the contentious issue of the athletes from Arunachal Pradesh.

“This issue was brought to our notice yesterday and we are taking it up with the organising committee to try and find a solution quickly. We will inform you accordingly,” acting Director General of the OCA Vinod Kumar Tiwari said. “We are meeting as a working group also and taking it up with the government. Apart from the government to government interaction, it is under discussion by the OCA also,” acting OCA president Randhir Singh added.

‘Different kinds of visa’

But the host appeared to be in no mood to budge and Wei Jizhong, honorary life vice-president of the OCA executive board and chairman of the Ethics Committee, instead claimed that China had issued the visa but the Indians had not accepted it. “I should clarify that these Indian athletes got visa to enter, China didn’t refuse any visa. But according to Chinese government regulations, we have the right to give different kinds of visa. But unfortunately these athletes didn’t accept this visa,” he insisted.

Reacting to India’s decision to cancel the ministerial visit, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs doubled down, saying that the Chinese government has “never recognised so-called Arunachal”.

In a different case in July, three members of the Wushu team belonging to Arunachal Pradesh were given “stapled visas” or paper visas on their passports, to attend the World University Games in Chengdu. New Delhi maintained that any attempt to distinguish them from other Indians was “unacceptable”, and put their visit on hold.

In February 2022, India had announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, after the Chinese government decided to field a People’s Liberation Army soldier, who had been decorated for his role in the 2020 Galwan clashes with Indian soldiers, as a torch-bearer during the Olympic flame run.

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