Hong Kong, which is a major strategic and political ally of India has announced that they will no longer allow visa-free entry for Indians. This is being regarded as a huge setback for India’s foreign diplomacy and a big step backwards for improving trade relations.
Around 5 lakh Indians visit Hong Kong every year, for various purposes which includes tourism, trade, education and jobs. Till now, Indians could have entered Hong Kong without a visa for 14 days, and it made the trade and bilateral exchanges quite seamless.
But after the new visa requirement, relations between these two countries is bound to get affected.
Hong Kong immigration department announced this update on their website: “Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete pre-arrival registration online before they can visit or transit the HKSAR visa-free (if seeking to enter the HKSAR during transit). Pre-arrival registration is not required for Indian nationals in direct transit by air and not leaving the airport transit area,”
They also informed that the procedure to apply for visa has been now opened, and the new rules would be implemented effective January 23, 2017.
Why Hong Kong Did This?
There are mainly two theories for this.
First, the China angle. Since 1997, Hong Kong became Special Administrative Region of China, after 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration came into force.
Hence, some analysts are stating that this decision was taken under directives of China, which has been opposing India’s stand on Arunanchal Pradesh, Tibet and lately Pakistan as well. Hence, this can be very well described as a diplomatic cold-war between India and China, using Hong Kong as the excuse.
Another stronger theory is regarding unnecessary asylum seekers, an issue which has been troubling Hong Kong since long.
Indian Asylum Seekers Are Unwanted?
Historically, Hong Kong has been a major recipient of asylum seekers from South East Asia. The trend started in 1949, when Chinese Civil War ended, and thousands of asylum seekers landed on the shores of Hong Kong for protection.
Afterwards, Vietnam War also contributed to this trend, and as a result, right now Hong Kong is a place teeming with asylum seekers from all over the world.
Between 2014-15, requests for asylum in Hong Kong has increased by 70% and as of April 2015, 9,900 international citizens are seeking asylum in Hong Kong, who belong mainly from South East Asia, and India contributes a major portion of this number.
As per various reports, 50% of all asylum seekers are from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Considering the fact that Hong Kong Govt. provides subsidized accommodation, free food and basic health care free of cost for all pending applicants (as they are not allowed to work till their application is processed), they are witnessing long queues of international citizens, waiting for get entry in their country.
But, some reports state that under pressure from China, Hong Kong is using this excuse to restrict entry of Indians.
A report by Outlook magazine stated, “Indian officials say that Hong Kong is using the asylum seekers as pretext to deny the visa free entry to Indians who are one of the largest spenders contributing the local economy.”
Indian Foreign Ministry hasn’t issued any statement in this regard, but it is expected that a strong protest would be lodged. Even China’s reaction is being looked forward to