The Puzzling Case Of Shyamsunder Agrawal And Deepak Raheja

This Bystander doesn’t quite know what to make of the strange case of Shyamsunder Agrawal and Deepak Raheja, but the two Indian businessman have caused a rumpus between Beijing and New Delhi.

Agrawal and Raheja were doing business in Yiwu, a city in Zhejiang southwest of Shanghai which is a big import-export trade hub for small manufactures. As best as we can tell they were attempting to leave town last month with unpaid debts running in to the millions of yuan. Whether the debts were theirs or those of their employer, as they claim, is unclear. But they were seized by local traders — they say kidnapped — and physically mistreated — they say tortured. An Indian consular official who had gone to Yiwu to sort the matter out was roughed up and fainted in a local court, allegedly after being denied medicine to treat his diabetes (an allegation denied by the foreign ministry in a legalistic statement that said China strictly abided by the Vienna Convention on the treatment of consular officials). Higher authorities eventually intervened, put the Indians up in a local hotel and then moved them to Shanghai to recover from their injuries after a large crowd surrounded the hotel. Five of the traders involved are to be prosecuted.

All, seemingly, an unfortunate if ugly incident, peculiar to itself and handled–or mishandled–as the circumstances warranted. Yet it produced an official and public lambasting of Indian traders operating in China and an equally forthright repost from India denigrating China’s legal system and advising its nationals to boycott Yiwu.

The spat has risen to a level where foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei was moved to say this week, “China hopes that the Indian side can positively educate and guide the country’s people doing business in China to abide by Chinese laws and regulations, practise honesty and trustworthiness and operate legally.” India’s retort: “Based on experience, there is no guarantee that legal remedies will be readily available. In case of disputes arising, experience suggests that there is inadequate protection for safety of persons.”

We know nothing of the original circumstances of this case beyond what we have read in press reports. This may all blow over, but, rightly or wrongly, it will confirm a lot of popular conceptions around the world about how much of China still works away from the big, international cities. Our man in Delhi tells us this case has touched a popular anti-Chinese nerve in India and triggered calls for a boycott of Chinese imports–though we imagine that if the businessmen and diplomat had been American, European or Australian there would have been much the same popular outrage in their respective countries. It also shows how much work Beijing still has to do in projecting China’s soft power.

1 Comment

Filed under China-India, Trade

One response to “The Puzzling Case Of Shyamsunder Agrawal And Deepak Raheja

  1. Sam

    It is very difficult to figure out the root cause however the bigger issue in hand is should Indian businesses should avoid going to and buying from traders in Yiwu? Is there any other alternative of Yiwu? As mentioned in your article, fly by night buyer, this is exactly what the business in Yiwu is all about and millions of dollars worth of goods are traded daily based on this business model. Obviously, being the hub of biggest cross trading plateform owners, Indian businessman looks Yiwu as a Mecca for business. I will be very curious to see if in practicality a boycott of Yiwu can actually take place.

    On other issue of manner in which Indian businessman conducts there business, I have to agree with my Chinese friends that Indian surely need to bring in an element of honesty to there “commitments” specially to that of payments. Indian are traditionally hard negotiators and this is OK as it is part of business . However, negotiation is one part and then honoring what is negotiated is other part. There are many instances where the suppliers have burned there trust on dealing with Indians. What has happened in Yiwu might be the “end result” of one such negotiation. I am not being judgmental but am bit critical of my fellow countrymen tactics of only focusing on strategies that discourage building of a bridge.

    In conclusion, considering the global economic gloom, India and China just by having each other together can survive till eternity. We need to bring in measures that enhances trust and brings brotherhood between us. I sincerely hope that justice in China gives a fare chance to Deepak Raheja and Shyam Agarwal to put in there part of the story and give a fare verdict.

    By the way has any one called Yemen yet to trace the Deepak and Shyam’s employer and in this case the main culprit?

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