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What Are Stapled Visas, Why Does China Issue These To Indians From Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir? - Explained

The issue resurfaced after three wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh, who were to take part in the World University Games beginning on Friday in Chengdu, were issued 'stapled visas' by the Chinese embassy, which led to the entire team being held back while the players from other sports left the country. 

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The Indian government on Thursday expressed its displeasure over China's decision to issue stapled visas to Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh. The Ministry of External Affairs has summoned the Chinese ambassador to India to lodge a protest. In the past too, there were instances of China issuing stapled visas to Indians from Arunachal Pradesh that drew sharp reactions from New Delhi.

The controversy comes even as China continues to lay claims over Arunachal Pradesh saying it is part of Southern Tibet. In April, India outrightly rejected China's renaming some places in Arunachal Pradesh, asserting that the state is an integral part of India and assigning "invented" names does not alter this reality.

Stapled visas vs stamp visas

A ‘stapled visa’ is a visa that is attached by a pin or a staple to a separate piece of paper instead of being stamped directly in the passport. Such a visa does not leave a permanent trace on one's passport as opposed to the stamped visa. It simply does not leave any proof of the trip carried out by the stapled visa holder. 

According to various media reports, the Chinese government has routinely issued stapled visas to Indian nationals from Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir ever since 2008-09. While it claims that the the visas are valid documents, the Government of India has consistently refused to accept this position.

In 2013, The New York Times published an account of a Kashmiri man who claimed he had been issued a stapled visa by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and had been stopped at the airport in September 2009.

Why are stapled visas a sensitive issue?

The stapled visa issue serves as a reminder regarding the ongoing border standoff between India and China over Arunachal Pradesh. By issuing stapled visas to Indians from Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese government reiterates that it does not recognise India’s claim over the state. The Indian government says that the ‘stapled visa’ issue is a political tool that China uses to assert its claim over Arunachal Pradesh. 

The point of contention between the two countries has been the McMahon Line, which is the boundary between Tibet and British India that was agreed upon at the Convention Between Great Britain, China and Tibet at the Simla Convention of 1914. China challenges the legal status of the McMahon Line and has made periodic efforts to claim this part of the India territory. It refers to Arunachal Pradesh as Zangnan. Beijing claims Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet, a claim firmly rejected by the External Affairs Ministry which has asserted that the state is an “inseparable part of India”. Beijing routinely protests visits of top Indian leaders and officials to Arunachal Pradesh to reaffirm its claim.

"Our long-standing and consistent position is that there should be no discrimination or differential treatment on the basis of domicile or ethnicity in the visa regime for Indian citizens holding valid Indian passports," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. 

Why did China issue stapled visas to sportspersons from Arunachal?

The issue resurfaced after three wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh, who were to take part in the World University Games beginning on Friday in Chengdu, were issued 'stapled visas' by the Chinese embassy, which led to the entire team being held back while the players from other sports left the country. 

A Wushu Association of India official said unlike other multi-sport events like the Asian Games or Olympics, the accreditation of the players and officials for the World University Games is to be collected at the venue and they needed to apply for visas.

In the past also, in case of events held under the aegis of the Asian or world governing bodies of a particular sport, China had issued 'stapled visas' to players from Arunachal Pradesh.

Past instances of Chinese Embassy issuing 'stapled visa'

In 2011, an official of the Indian Weightlifting Federation hailing from Arunachal Pradesh and a weightlifter from the same state were to travel to China to take part in a grand prix event in China but they missed out after they were issued 'stapled visa'.

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

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