Will ‘stapled visas’ affect India’s participation at the Asian Games?

Three Indian athletes from Arunachal Pradesh have been issued these visas, stoking an ongoing dispute over the northeastern state

Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games (Getty Images)
Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games (Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The Indo-China relations came under the spotlight again, last week when the latter issued ‘stapled visas’ to the three wushu (martial arts) athletes from Arunachal Pradesh – instead of stamping their passports – for the ongoing Summer World University Games in Chengdu.

Peeved at such a move, India pulled out their wushu contingent, but the incident raises a bigger concern – can it affect the participation in the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou from September 10-25?

A stapled visa, incidentally, is like an entry pass that is attached to a separate piece of paper instead of being stamped directly in the passport – a practice that the Chinese government began for Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh in 2009.

While no official statement from China is available on this issue, there are precedents of them issuing the stapled visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh – hence it is perceived as a political tool ever since China began treating the extreme North Eastern state as a disputed territory and resorted to such a symbolic move to assert it’s claim over the state.

There is now speculation over the participation of athletes from the state as at least in three disciplines – karate, taekwondo and skateboarding – their national federation has recommended players from Arunachal Pradesh for selection in the Indian contingent for the continental showpiece. The deadline for submission of the lists to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was July 15, and the umbrella body is yet to announce the entire Indian contingent.

There are media reports suggesting that India does not foresee any problems for multi-sport events like the Asian Games and Olympics, where players’ participate through the IOA. These events are held under the auspices of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and International Olympic Committee (IOC), with participants and officials typically receiving accreditation in India before their departure, serving as their visa for the Games.

Given the sensitivity of the issue, a few officials in the industry for facilitating visas – namely travel agencies as well as VFS Global – the single biggest operators in India have refused to comment if such a precedent is going to deter tourists from that state, including students, from travelling to China. ‘’We are in no position to comment as our role is limited to that of being a centre for collections application documents. The files are sent to the embassy/consular offices for scrutiny,’’ said sources in the VFS.

This should not ring alarm bells for the Indians wishing to visit the country as they have started allowing foreign visitors to the country since March after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Wang Xiaojian, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in India, tweeted on May 30: ‘’In the first five months of the year, the Chinese Embassy and Consulates General have issued over 60,000 visas to Indian people travelling to China for purposes of business, study, tourist, work, family reunion etc. Welcome to China.’’

A notification from the Chinese Embassy also said that Chinese visas that were issued before March 28, 2020 and remains within the valid period will be reactivated. ‘’The Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in India will resume issuing various types of Chinese visas. For more details, please check the updated notice on the Requirements for Chinese Visa Application,’’ the notification added.

The ‘stapled visa’ for applicants from only the disputed state is hence perceived as a symbolic move on China’s part of not recognising Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India. When a person with a stapled visa returns to their home country, the entry-and-exit passes on the stapled visa are torn off - meaning that no details of the trip are recorded.

Incidentally, while no details were accessible if there were general applicants from Arunachal Pradesh who were issued similar passports, there are precedents of sportspersons being handed such visas. In 2011, an official and a lifter of the Indian Weightlifting Federation from Arunachal Pradesh were to travel to China to take part in a grand prix event in China but they missed out after they were issued stapled visas.

The same year, five karate players from Arunachal set to travel to China for a championship met with the same fate, as did two young archers who were to take part in the Youth World Archery Championship.

The three women athletes who received the stapled visas on this occasion were Nyeman Wangsu, Onilu Tega, and Mepung Lamgu. Calling such an action ‘unacceptable,’ the Ministry of External Affairs had summoned the Chinese ambassador to India to ‘’lodge a protest.’’

‘’India deserves the right to suitably respond to such actions,’’ a senior MEA bureaucrat reacted last week. ‘’Enough is enough,’’ remarked Sashi Tharoor, Congress leader, as he demanded a tit-for-tat move.

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