Between the Indian customs department and the Chinese "kidnapping" traders, it's the Indian businessman who is getting sandwiched!

The recent case of Indian traders being kidnapped in China has opened up a can of worms. Apart from the case revealing weaknesses in the Chinese judiciary (as I had highlighted in an editorial a few weeks back), it has also brought out in the open something that traders from India (and other countries) were facing for a long time but not speaking about openly. The big trade that happens between India and China is through the scores of wholesalers operating out of wholesale markets in India like the Sadar Bazaar in Delhi. These are not the big guys who prefer getting into litigation that easily; they also aren’t amongst those who operate with lawyers and bigger paraphernalia. These are smaller traders, though huge in numbers, who go to Chinese towns like Yiwu in particular and pick one or two containers of goods worth Rs. 30 lakh to a crore once every quarter. And they now fear entering China. The question is why? Can one incident of kidnapping shake up an entire community of traders, especially when China is such a good bargain for them? Or was this not that stray an incident after all?

Consider the case of Manish Rewari. He has been doing business in exactly the same town of China for years now. And swears by the advantages that China gives him in his business as he shows off a fascinating watch that he is wearing while narrating his story! He had first seen the same watch in a wholesale outlet in Karol Bagh (a shoppers’ paradise near Central Delhi). The shopkeeper quoted Rs.22k as the best price for the watch to Manish. Not be outdone like normal customers, this China believer – in his next trip to Yiwu – went around various shops and found out exactly the same watch. And the price for a single piece was Rs.2.5k; and for bulk order of more than a hundred pieces, Rs.1.2k per piece. A watch enthusiast, he picked up only one watch for his consumption.

If that sounded nice, just a trip before this particular trip, Manish’s experience was not as good. He used to work with a Chinese agent then. During his previous trip, he had struck a small deal and purchased goods for Rs.75k through the said agent. The agent took the money, delivered him the goods, but never paid the original seller. The next time, when Manish came and tried to directly deal with the seller, the moment he provided his old receipt with the previous agent’s name to show the price at which he had bought the goods in the previous trip, the seller pounced upon him. His grudge was that he had not received the money for that particular transaction. Manish very courageously tried to defend himself by saying, truthfully, that he had obviously paid up for the same. This he did despite knowing “that they [the Chinese seller] could pick him up and make him disappear”. His reasoning clearly was of no help because soon, there were scores of the seller’s people and henchmen who came from all around and surrounded Manish. Sensing trouble, Manish approached the nearby police, who in their very usual unfriendly manner told him in Chinese that they were there to protect only the interest of the Chinese. That’s when good sense prevailed. Manish knew that he had come for just three days and had a lot of deals to strike. And this would only get messy. And spending a few days in jail like a few others he had heard of was not a great idea. Manish grudgingly agreed to strike a deal with the disgruntled seller, and paid fifty percent of the pending money again as settlement (since it was too small an amount) and fortunately got away.