New Delhi on Friday launched “strong protest” against Beijing’s decision to stop three wushu players from India’s north-east Arunachal Pradesh state, which both countries claim as their territory, from travelling to Hangzhou for the Asian Games.
Arunachal Pradesh lies on the Indian side of the eastern tip of a 4,000km undemarcated border, but is historically claimed by China as part of the Tibet region.
China is hosting the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou from September 23 to October 8.
The three players – Nyeman Wangsu, Onilu Tega and Mepung Lamgu had received their accreditation from Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee, which also acts as an entry visa.
But they were unable to download their travel documents ahead of their scheduled visit on Wednesday.
They were stranded in the capital New Delhi after they were stopped from boarding the plane.
The Ministry of External Affairs said that China, in a targeted and premeditated manner, discriminated against three of its players from Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.
“In line with our long-standing and consistent position, India firmly rejects differential treatment of Indian citizens on the basis of domicile or ethnicity. Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India,” the MEA statement read.
“China’s action violates both the spirit of the Asian Games and the rules governing their conduct, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against competitors from member states.”
New Delhi further said that it has cancelled the visit of Anurag Thakur, the federal sports minister, as a “mark of protest against the Chinese action”.
Wei Jizhong, chairman of the Olympic Council of Asia’s ethics committee, rejected the claims and said that the players were given a visa but had not accepted it.
“These Indian athletes have already got the visa to enter China. China didn't refuse any visa. The problem is that, according to the Chinese government, we have the right to give them different kinds of visa, arrival visa, paper visa or visa in passport. Unfortunately, these athletes didn't accept this visa,” Mr Wei said.
“I don't think this is an OCA problem because China has an agreement to let all the athletes who have certified eligibility to come to compete in China. This is clear. The visa has already been granted."
The visa dispute comes a month after China included Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Kashmir in its latest map.
China renamed about a dozen places in Arunachal Pradesh, which it referred to as “Zangnan, the southern part of Tibet”, in April this year. It also renamed 15 places in the state in 2021.
India has said the state has “always been” and will “always be” an integral part of the country.
The two countries have been engaged in a diplomatic row and relations have been frosty since 2020 when troops from both countries were involved in deadly clashes along part of their disputed border in the Ladakh region.
At least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers died in fighting in the area.
There have been several rounds of high-level talks between senior military commanders and foreign ministry officials from both sides without significant progress.