New Delhi cancelled on Friday a trip by its sports minister to the Asian Games in Hangzhou, saying that Chinese authorities had denied accreditation and entry to Indian athletes from a region claimed by Beijing.
According to Indian media reports, three women martial arts fighters from the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh were approved to take part in the sports extravaganza by the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee.
But the wushu fighters were unable to download their accreditation cards, which act as visas to enter China, the Hindustan Times reported.
The northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is claimed almost in full by Beijing, which calls it “South Tibet”.
China had discriminated against some of the Indian athletes “in a targeted and pre-meditated manner”, India’s foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
A “strong protest” had been lodged in both New Delhi and Beijing against “China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons”, he said, and a trip by the sports minister to the event had been cancelled.
Wushu, or kung fu, is a multi-disciplinary martial art originating in China.
The rest of the 10-member Indian squad along with the coaching staff left for the Games in Hangzhou on Wednesday, according to reports.
Before the Indian foreign ministry statement, senior Olympic Council of Asia official Wei Jizhong had insisted that the trio had been issued visas and were not barred.
“I make it very clear: the Chinese government gave them a visa, they can enter China,” he told reporters. “But unfortunately these athletes didn’t accept the visa.”
Asked about the trio at a regular foreign ministry briefing in Beijing, spokeswoman Mao Ning said that China welcomed “athletes from all countries with legal documents” to take part in the Asian Games.
“The Chinese government does not recognise the so-called Arunachal region that you mentioned,” she added. “South Tibet is part of China.”
Indian spokesman Bagchi retorted: “Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.”
In a similar incident in July, the Indian wushu team did not travel to the Chinese city of Chengdu for the World University Games after the same three athletes were issued stapled, rather than pasted, visas — an indication that Beijing does not recognise India’s territorial claim over Arunachal Pradesh.
On that occasion the foreign ministry in New Delhi called the move “unacceptable”.
Arunachal Pradesh is on the other side of the Himalayas from Tibet and shares a common Buddhist cultural heritage with its northern neighbour.
The Dalai Lama fled through the state in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland and has lived in India ever since.
China briefly occupied most of the territory in a bloody conflict three years after the Buddhist leader’s flight.
Earlier this year, India reacted strongly after China renamed 11 places in the disputed region.