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India: China delaying plane to ferry back Indians from Wuhan

Geng Shuang said in response to criticism from India that there was no ulterior motive in not clearing the flight

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 23.02.20, 1:25 AM
  • Updated 23.02.20, 2:08 AM
Indians board the Air India aircraft sent to evacuate them from Wuhan on February 2
Indians board the Air India aircraft sent to evacuate them from Wuhan on February 2 (PTI)

India and China were engaged in a war of words over a flight to ferry back Indians from Wuhan during the weekend when US President Donald Trump was heading to the region for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss, “among other things”, Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy that Beijing sees is an attempt to contain it.

After China on Friday contested India’s insinuation that Beijing was deliberately delaying clearance for an Air Force plane to Wuhan to evacuate Indians seeking a way out of the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, New Delhi on Saturday unofficially released details of other international flights which had taken off from the Hubei provincial capital this week.

On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang had said in response to criticism from India that there was no ulterior motive in not clearing the flight.

“The Chinese side always attaches great importance to the health and safety of Indian nationals in China, and provided assistance and convenience for the return of Indian citizens. The current epidemic situation in Hubei province is complicated, and the prevention and control of Covid-19 has entered into a critical stage.

“We are carefully assessing ground situation as prevention work requires. Competent departments of the two countries are keeping communication and coordination in this regard. There is no such thing as China deliberately delaying granting flight permission.’’

Barring a confirmation on Thursday from the external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar that China was yet to give clearance to the flight carrying medical supplies to Wuhan, India has not officially said anything about the delay. On Saturday too, sources spoke off the record in response to Geng’s claim.

“Our request for a third flight was submitted on February 13. Flight plan was submitted on February 15. Date of flight proposed originally was February 20. That is five days notice. The delay, therefore, appears deliberate.’’

Further, sources pointed out, that during this period three flights had taken off from Wuhan — Japan on February 16, Ukraine on February 19 and France on February 20. “If work was not critical enough to stop or delay these flights, how did it suddenly become critical for the Indian flight,’’ sources asked.

The IAF C17 Globemaster has been loaded with medical supplies and is to bring back around 100 Indians from Wuhan — the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier, 600 Indians had been brought back from Wuhan on two Air India flights but this time around an IAF plane is being used because of the medical supplies that India has offered to China by way of assistance in dealing with the outbreak.

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