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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 20 New Delhi May 5, 2018

Chinese Perfidy

Saturday 5 May 2018, by Ashok Parthasarathi


Sino-Indian relations have been marked by Chinese perfidy since the time we attained political independence in 1947 and the so-called Chinese “liberation” in 1949. Barely had the Chinese achieved political freedom that they attacked and annexed the whole of Tibet in 1950.

From the very beginning of our political relations, Jawaharlal Nehru went out of his way to befriend the Chinese. When the UN Security Council was set up in 1948, Nehru had urged, indeed argued with, the Western powers (the USA, UK and France) and the Soviet Union to make China a Permanent Member of that Council with a veto, like the other four. That was despite the Western powers being very keen that Democratic India and not Communist China should be the fifth veto-holding member of the Council. This was despite none of the three Western powers having even recognised China diplomatically at that time.

The Brief that Nehru gave our three ambassadors to China—K.M. Pannikkar, K.P.S. Menon and R.K. Nehru—was that they should go all out to befriend China. What is more, he directed them to do so, even if the Chinese did not reciprocate. However, the Chinese were hostile right from the beginning. It was with the greatest of difficulty that Nehru was able, following his first visit to China in 1952, to get the Chinese to agree to conclude in 1954 the path-breaking “Panch-sheel” Agreement, that is, a Bilateral Agreement which contained a set of Five Principles to govern Sino-Indian relations.

At this point, I must back-track in my narrative to mention two important events. Firstly, that as far back as in 1949, the then US President, Harry Truman, sent to Delhi his Secretary of State (Foreign Minister) Dean Acheson and the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Frost. Their mission was to offer to Nehru a Bilateral Military Alliance, which was tailor-made, politically and security-wise, to be acceptable to Nehru. After careful consideration Nehru declined the offer. He told Acheson: “We have not fought Colonial and Imperial Britain for almost 80 years and finally thrown them out to get you, the USA, as our new Masters.”

More significant perhaps was the offer made by Josef Stalin in 1951 for a Bilateral Military Pact with contours and character to be defined solely by Nehru himself. While not accepting Stalin’s remarkable offer—the Soviet Union did not have such an Agreement even with their “fraternal ally” Communist China—Nehru told Stalin during a visit to Moscow soon after Stalin’s offer: “We in India seek the closest possible allround friendship with the USSR, but a set of relations which does not infringe or restrict our Freedom of Action either at home or abroad.”

To return to Sino-Indian relations, the period starting immediately after the signing of the “Panch-sheel” Agreement to the end of 1958, was characterised by considerable cordiality. However, more of that later.

In March 1958 Nehru decided to appoint one of his closest aides, G. Parthasarathi, as the Ambassador to China. “G.P.”, as he was well known both at home and abroad, was then our Ambassador to Indonesia. On getting Nehru’s orders to go to China, G.P. “made the rounds” of the top echelons of our government. He met all the four Secretaries in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon—a close mentor during G.P.’s student days at Oxford—Defence Secretary S.S. Khera, the three Defence Service Chiefs and finally that formidable personality in Nehru’s government at that time, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) responsible then for both Internal and External Intelligence, B.N. Mullick.

Finally he called on Nehru at 11 pm on March 18, 1958, the night before he (G.P.) was leaving for Peking (as it then used to be called). After disposing of a couple of files he was dealing with, Nehru put his pen down, leant back in his chair, looked at G.P. in the eye and said: “So G.P., what has the Foreign Office told you? Hindu-Chini Bhai Bhai? Don’t you believe it. I don’t trust that Chinese one bit. They are an arrogant, opinionated and hegemonistic imperial power. Eternal vigilance has to be your watchword. You should send your important telegrams only to me directly.“ He then went on to say: “A word of caution. You should not mention a word about these instructions of mine to Krishna (meaning Krishna Menon). I say this because all of us—you, me and Krishna—all share a common worldview—broadly Left-of-Centre. However, Krishna erroneously believes that a Communist State (meaning China) would never attack a Non-Aligned Country (meaning India).”

It was a sobered G.P. who left the Prime Minister’s Office at 1 am on March 19, 1958 and went back to the house of his cousin, S. Ranganathan, then the Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The next morning he flew, alongwith with wife Subur, to Madras (as Chennai was then called). At Chennai the couple boarded the flagship of the Indian Navy, the Cruiser, INS Mysore, which was to proceed to Shanghai (China’s largest port city) from where the couple would fly to Peking.

G.P. started work in the Embassy in Peking on April 1, 1958. A week later, there was a major function in the Great Hall of the People at which G.P. formally presented his credentials to the President of China, the great Chairman Mao-tse-Tung. Speaking briefly on the occasion (the perfidious) Mao referred to India and China being two great civilisations which had been in contact with each other for over 3000 years and how he looked forward to G.P.’s tenure in China being a pleasurable and cordial one.

G.P. soon got into the swim of things in Peking. He worked out with his counterpart, Mr Chiang-wen-Chin, the Director of the Asia Division in the Chinese Foreign Office, a schedule of twice-a-week meetings. Chiang was well known in Peking’s diplomatic circles as a close confidant of the famous Chou-En-lai, the venerable Prime Minister of China. However, an important measure which G.P. took to build up and consolidate his position in the Chinese Government was to get to know quite well the famous Foreign Minister of China, Marshal Chen Yi (Chiang’s boss).

As my parents were getting into Peking’s governmental and diplomatic circles, as a budding physicist, I visited the famous Technical University of Tsing Hua and got to know both the Faculty and students there.

Particularly enjoyable for me was getting to know quite well a young First Secretary in the Yugoslav Embassy, called Vlado Sestan. Vlado, though only 35 years of age, had already become quite a Sinophile, speaking fluent Mandarin (the official Chinese language). He was also fond of trekking, particularly to many Buddhist and Taoist temples in China. As at home, most of these exquisite temples were located on mountain tops. So led by Sestan, I trekked to mountain Tai Shan (7000 feet altitude) and located close to the port city of Tienstin, and to Omai Shan (12,000 feet altitude) at the other end (western end) of China. Vlado’s ability to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently and also to read it to a fair extent enabled us to converse with the “common” people of China and got to know their hopes and fears and their perception of the pluses and minuses of the Chinese Communist Party which ruled them. Vlado was also a superb photographer and his pictures of various aspects and views of the temples and the carvings on them were excellent.

As if all this was not enough, Vlado’s wife Yerka was a superb cook and so I was spoilt with lovely Serbian food and wine.

Those were some of my happiest days in Peking.

By early 1959, it became clear the year ahead would be a difficult one for India and Indians in China. The year opened with the first incursions by Chinese troops in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border. Our far less well equipped troops began to die like flies. Simultaneously, the Chinese also started major incursions in the east (Arunachal Pradesh). These incursions, behind which our reconnaissance aircraft could see large formations of Chinese troops specially trained for mountain warfare, indicated the seriousness of the situation.

The political and ideological dimension of the major Sino-Indian conflict looming ahead was also serious. The two official dailies—Peking Daily, the organ of the Communist Party of China, and Red Flag, the organ of the People’s Liberation Army—carried daily diatribes against Nehru personally and India in general.

Then came the coup d’grace—a long 10,000-word article entitled: “On Nehru’s Socialism” in People’s Daily with the author’s name inscribed merely as “A Socialist”. From start-to-finish, the article was a savage diatribe of Nehru and all that he stood for. It undertook an almost sociological analysis of Nehru—a leader of the Indian bourgeoisie, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. That all his pretensions of being a “socialist” were fake. That so was the claim of him and his cohorts to be building a “Socialistic Pattern of Society” in India. And so on and so forth.

Minute reading of the text of the article including the phrases used, led our own China analysts and those of the Western embassies in Peking to the unmistakeable conclusion that the author was Mao himself.

It was only to be expected that in such an overall situation, G.P.’s predicament in working with officials of the Chinese Government would be very difficult. Chiang-wen-Chin went cold as a cucumber. So did Chen Yi. The only person who continued to be as warm and accessible as ever to G.P. was Chou-En-lai. The whole of 1959 proceeded this way.

Meanwhile, the Sino-Soviet split, which was running in parallel with the Sino-Indian one, got intensified. What was galling to the Chinese was the frequent reference in Pravda and other organs of the Soviet Communist Party and the frequent calls in those publications for “our Chinese Brothers and our Indian Friends” to bury their differences and work together amicably whether it be in regard to the Border or State-to-State relations in particular.

By the time mid-1960 came although the level of Border skirmishes and conflicts had not come significantly down, Khrushchev put huge pressure on Mao to let Chou-En-lai go to Delhi. G.P. as our Ambassador to China accompanied Chou-En-lai not only to Delhi but on each of Chou’s calls not only on Nehru but on Nehru’s senior Ministers—Govind Ballabh Pant, the Home Minister, Morarji Desai, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister etc.

A very significant fact that G.P. learnt in Delhi was that Nehru had been informed by Khrushchev via a top secret route that it was the estimate of Soviet Intelligence that the Chinese had started preparing for a war against India in late 1962, as far back as in 1956, that is, even during the bonhomie period of 1954-1958!

To return to Chou’s visit to Delhi, every top Minister he met—as indicated earlier—took a hard line insisting that (a) China should return to India all the 15,000 sq. kilometres of territory in Tibet which China had acquired through “Catographic Aggression” undertaken by the Chinese over 1955 to 1959—furthermore an aggression which was still continuing; and (b) China should make a public statement that they were committed to settling the Border dispute with India peacefully and only through negotiations.

Chou’s response to Nehru and all his senior Ministers regarding (a) and (b) above, was one of stonewalling. His one-point refrain to (a) and (b) was for both countries to accept a “Package Deal” under which all the territories China was possessing as of that day (including the 15,000 sq. kms. acquired through “Cartographic Aggression”) would remain with China, while the whole of Arunachal Pradesh would come to India. Such a “formula” was unacceptable to Nehru and his Ministers, because it would be unacceptable to the Indian people. So, it was stalemate and after three days in Delhi, Chou returned to Peking at the end of September empty-handed.

Meanwhile, Nehru, who had been informed by the Soviet Ambassador to Delhi that Chou’s visit itself was due to massive pressure put by Khrushchev on Mao, rang up Khrushchev, thanked the former for his positive intervention and then recounted to Khrushchev the “outcome” of Chou‘s visit.

The period from Chou’s return in September 1960 and the onset of the Sino-Indian War of October-November 1962, was characterised by a steady worsening of relations—both political and military.

In June 1961, G.P.’s term of duty in Peking came to an end. G.P., his wife and I were to leave for Delhi on the morning of June 21 via Hong Kong.

Most unusually G.P. got an invitation from Marshal Chen Yi, the Foreign Minister of China, to a small dinner for the two families at 7 pm on the 20th evening. The fact that Chen Yi was hosting the dinner and not Chiang-wen-Chin and that the dinner was to be at the residence of Chen Yi rather than on one or other official guest-house of the Foreign Office, reflected how highly G.P. was held in top Chinese Government circles.

When the three of us arrived at Chen Yi’s residence we found that Chiang-wen-Chin was already there alongwith his wife. Both the wives —Chen Yi’s and Chiang-wen-Chin’s—were obviously there because my mother had been invited.

Over 7.00-7.30 pm, a desultory conversation took place between the three men on one side  and the three women on the other.

However, exactly at 7.30 pm in walks Chou-En-lai. As he comes into the room he goes straight to G.P., hugs him warmly and then says: ”You are a great friend of China. Your stay with us has been extremely successful. I hope to see you again in China soon.”

Chou then joins the conversation in a very jovial mood. However, exactly at 8 pm Chou stands up, hugs G.P. again, gives the latter a very expensive present and then leaves.

The dinner is then served and the atmosphere is convivial with even Mrs Chen Yi and Mrs Chiang-wen-Chin speaking in English!

However, no sooner than the dinner ended Chen Yi, Chiang-wen-Chin, my father and I moved into another room. There, over the strong Chinese rice wine Maotai and Cuban cigars Chiang opens the conversation with a grave face. He tells G.P. that according to Chinese sources, Nehru was to be going on a state visit to the USA in August 1961 at the invitation of President Kennedy, just before Nehru was to give his usual address at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Chiang said then that as G.P. was leaving for Delhi the next day, the Chinese Government would greatly appreciate if Nehru could used his “good offices” with Kennedy to undertake the following:

(a) request Kennedy to reduce the patrolling of the Taiwan Strait by the US Seventh Fleet, and

(b) urge Kennedy to seriously consider the admission of China not only into the United Nations in general but making China a Permanent Member of the Security Council in particular.

G.P. was flabbergasted and indeed outraged at Chiang-wen-Chin’s two “requests” coming as it did from a country—China—which had been vilifying Nehru and India in their media for at least two whole years.

However, G.P. also kept a straight face and said that as soon as he reached Delhi he would convey the Chen Yi-Chiang-wen-Chin requests to Nehru.

When G.P. returned to Delhi towards the end of June 1961, he, as usual, first went to see Nehru. Nehru welcomed him warmly. He then showed G.P. a six-page hand-written letter from President Kennedy which the US Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, had brought to him (Nehru) a few days earlier. Nehru asked G.P. to read the letter carefully. After G.P. had done so, Nehru asked him for his views. G.P. said that he would like to think about the matter for a day or so. After doing so, G.P. went back to Nehru the next day and said his advice would be not to accept Kennedy’s offer. G.P. gave Nehru three reasons for not doing so. First, Nehru was seen in the eyes of the world as a crusader for Disarmament in general and Nuclear Disarmament in particular ever since the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. For such a person to suddenly going for a nuclear test would result in his (Nehru’s) credibility being severely compro-mised. Secondly, the whole world knew that India did not have the capability to undertake a nuclear test on its own. So, a test by us would totally lack credibility—the world would ask: who gave you the nuclear device and taught you how to detonate it? The “needle of suspicion” would clearly point to the USA. Thirdly, and finally, it would lead to a nuclear weapons programme by Pakistan. For all these reasons, G.P. advised Nehru not to accept Kennedy’s offer. Incidentally, this was despite Bhabha, the head of our nuclear programme, B.N. Mullick, the Director, Intelligence Bureau, and even Indira Gandhi all being in favour of accepting Kennedy’s offer.

The next major event was the 1962 Sino-Indian War. So much has been written about it by numerous authors that I do not propose to deal with it here.

I will proceed directly to what happened in June 1979 when Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Foreign Minister of the Janata Government headed by Morarji Desai made an official visit to China. Chinese perfidy was again at work and the Chinese insulted Vajpayee in two ways. First, they undertook a very large Nuclear Bomb Test with an explosive power of 10 Megatons. Secondly, they launched a major attack on Vietnam, their south-eastern neighbour and another “fraternal communist country”. The 14-day war ended with the Vietnamese roundly defeating the Chinese while inflicting heavy casualties on Chinese troops.

The next occasion when Chinese perfidy came to the fore was in 2003 when Prime Minister Vajpayee of a 24-party coalition of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) made a state visit to China. The key matter to be decided upon that visit was the status of Sikkim. Sikkim had all along been an integral part of India, but for decades the Chinees had refused to accept that. However, this time, Brajesh Mishra, the Principal Secretary to Vajpayee and one who had been Number Two to G.P. when G.P. was our Ambassador to the UN over 1965-69, had done such superb “back-channel work” with the Chinese before the Vajpayee visit that the Chinese finally gave in and agreed to Sikkim being an integral part of India. Moreover apart from being included in the Agreed Minutes of the Vajpayee visit, the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi held an International Press Conference at which he displayed a map of the entire area around Sikkim including a “finger-like” geographical formation protruding from the Indian landmass into the Chinese territory. Furthermore, when a foreign correspondent asked the Ambassador to confirm that the “finger” was an integral part of India or not, the Ambassador confirmed that it was. Yet, within six months of that Press Conference, the “finger” was “infested by Chinese troops in large numbers”. So much for the sanctity of Chinese commitments.

Finally, there is the matter of Arunachal Pradesh. G.P., as the Chairman of the Indian Council of Social Science Research, led a large delegation of our social scientists to China in June 1982 to meet their counterparts in Chinese universities. Our delegation visited several major Chinese universities and Research Institutes to give lectures there and get to know each other’s counterparts’ viewpoints.

However, the real purpose of G.P.’s visit—as he was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s closest aide and adviser—was to meet and have extended discussions with the Chinese supremo, Deng Xiaopeng, on Sino-Indian relations. That top secret meeting was arranged by A.P. Venkateswaran, then our Ambassador to China.

The G.P.-Deng meeting lasted one hour and 40 minutes. Deng opened the meeting by referring to the longstanding cordial relations which had prevailed over centuries between India and China. He said that against such a background, the deterioration in Sino-Indian relations which had occurred in the second half of the 1950s that had finally led to the tragic Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, must never be repeated. Deng then asked G.P. to convey his cordial good wishes to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Against the above background, Deng said that, after much reflection, he had come to conclude that the only way the Sino-Indian Border Dispute—the most serious difference between the two countries—could be resolved was by adopting a “package deal” approach, namely, China keeps all the territory it was currently holding in the western sector of the border, that is, that adjoining Tibet, while India kept the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.

G.P., who had been expecting such a proposal from Deng, reacted very positively to the proposal. This being the case, and after further discussion, Deng and G.P. decided to proceed as follows:

On his return to Delhi, G.P. would report in detail to PM Indira Gandhi about his talks with Deng. Thereafter, Indiraji would write a letter to Deng setting out her agreement to taking Deng’s approach. Such a letter would reach Deng through diplomatic channels in three weeks’ time. Deng would respond his affirmation of Indiraji’s proposal also in three weeks’ time. He would also indicate the name of the Chinese Representative at the senior level who would deal with the border talks from the Chinese end.

With the complete operational modalities sown up, G.P. and Deng spent sometime on reviewing the world situation. Thereafter G.P. (and Venkateswaran who had accompanied G.P. to the talks with Deng), took leave of Deng.

After returning to the Indian Embassy (in Peking) they reviewed the whole meeting and concluded that it had gone well.

The next day (June 27, 1982) G.P. and the rest of the ICSSR delegation left Peking to return to Delhi.

On the very day he arrived back in Delhi, G.P. met Indiraji and briefed her in detail about his talks with Deng. Indiraji congratulated him for having accomplished a very difficult task so well.

The next step was Indiraji’s letter to Deng which G.P. did the next day and, after some minor corrections by her, it was sent off to our Embassy in Peking by a special Diplomatic Bag.

As he had promised, Deng’s reply accepting Indiraji’s letter in toto and naming the seniormost Deputy Minister in the Chinese Foreign Office as the Chinese Government’s nominee for the border talks came around the agreed time-frame.

Having found Deng’s reply in order, Indiraji asked G.P. who should be the Indian Representative. G.P., who had already given some thought to the matter, said: “We should bring A.P. Venkateswaran back to Delhi as Secretary (East) in External Affairs and designate him simultaneously as our Representative for the talks.” Mrs Gandhi accepted G.P.’s advice and the necessary administrative arrangements were made. However, the PM asked G.P. to keep a close watch on how the talks were progressing and ensure that they “stayed on the rails”.

The bilateral talks on the border between the Special Representatives of the two governments started in December 1982 and were held alternatively in Delhi and Beijing. Over the next nine months—much of 1983—three rounds of talks were held and they went off well.

Then came the spanner in the works. The senior Indian Foreign Service officer who had succeeded Venkateswaran as our Ambassador to China, K.S. Bajpai, suddenly told the Chinese side that it was unlikely the talks would continue as “Mrs Gandhi had lost interest in the Idea—of Border Talks”. Bajpai’s communication to the Chinese was totally unauthorised and false. So angry was Indiraji when she learnt what he had done, that she promptly transferred Bajpai as our Ambassador to an insignificant African country. She also saw to it that the talks continued.

The core of the Deng-Indira Agreement was that China would lay no claims whatsoever to Arunachal Pradesh. That State would, for all time to come, be an unfettered State of the Indian Union. Perfidiously, however, Deng’s successors did not hold to that position. Quite the contrary. Every time the Prime Minister or our President or the Dalai Lama—the Head of the Buddhist Community worldwide—visited Arunachal, there would be a shrill outcry of criticism from not just the Chinese media but the Chinese Foreign Office as well. Over time, we came to ignore such perfidious and baseless opposition and go about our business as usual! But the perfidy remains and with it a total lack of confidence and dependability of the Chinese.

The author is a former S & T Adviser to the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

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