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Mainstream, VOL L, No 30, July 14, 2012

Panchsheel and After

Sunday 15 July 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty


It is interesting to find that a fairly high-level of delegates from the government-sponsored Think Tanks in China had interactions with their Indian counterparts recently in New Delhi under the aegis of a seminar devoted to Panchsheel and Global Diplomacy. The event marked the fortieth anniversary of the coining of the Panchsheel, that is, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (June 28, 1954). As a matter of fact, no specific declaration on the five principles was soleminised in a formal document at that time. The five principles were in the form of an affirmation of respect for territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence by both China and India. This formed part of the preamble to a formal agreement on India’s recognition of the Autonomous Region of Tibet being part of China while the Chinese agreed to traders and pilgrims using six passes in the middle sector of the far-flung frontier.

The negotiations for this accord had started three months before in Peking, in which our distinguished diplomat, then a middle-level Foreign Service officer, T.N. Kaul, played a key role. What was rather intriguing about the accord was that while the six passes in the middle sector were specifically mentioned for use by traders and pilgrims, the border itself was not delineated, not to speak of having been demarcated. The present writer once asked Kaul why the demarcation of the border itself was not undertaken in those sunshine days of India-China relations. He said that the suggestion for it was dodged by the Chinese at the time. Jawaharlal Nehru himself had expected that the 1954 accord would eliminate the possibility of a border dispute. In his customary fortnightly letter to the Chief Ministers on July 1, 1954, he wrote: “Two important aspects of this agreement are: (1) that indirectly the question of our long frontier is settled; and (2) the principle of non-aggression and non-interference, etc., are laid down.” The hope was blighted in about five years.

Meanwhile, the Panchsheel got wide publicity far in axcess of what the two signatories could ever dream. Next year in April 1955, twenty-nine countries of Asia and Africa met at Bandung, where an enlarged version of the Panchsheel was adopted. The Indonesian President, Soekarno, who hosted the Bandung Conference, made it the Ten Principles of Peaceful Coexistence; the five new ones were: respect for human rights and the UN Charter; recognition of racial and national equality; the right of any nation to defend itself singly or jointly under the UN Charter; abstention from using a collective defence arrangement for the benefit of any big world power; settlement of international disputes by peaceful means. In a sense, this was virtually the take-off point of non-alignment as a movement.
Actually, it was the original Five Principles, and not Soekamo’s Ten, which got international currency. After his visit to West Germany in 1956. Nehru wrote: “A day or two after I had left Germany, he (Chancellor Adenauer) came out with a statement approving of our Five Principles of Panchsheel, much to the surprise of many Germans who did not expect this of him.” When in 1956, Bulganin and Khrushchev visited the UK, the joint statement mentioned the Five Principles approvingly. The Panchsheel thus got international currency even in the battlefields of the Cold War.

However, it was wearing out in the relation-ship of the two original signatories. The diplo-matic skirmishes over the border claims started long before the angry rhetoric that came from Peking with the revolt in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in the summer of 1959. Border clashes followed and in 1962 came the full-scale Chinese aggression along both the eastern and western sectors of the long frontier. Many speculations have been ventured about this volte face in the Chinese policy towards India in this period. It may perhaps be worth keeping in mind one particular factor which might have largely contributed to the Chinese abandonment of the Panchsheel during this period not only in relation to India but many other friendly countries as well.

Since the late seventies, that is, with Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation drive, whoever has gone to China (as did the present writer more than once) has had to listen to the whole catalogue of havoc wrought to the country’s economy, politics and social fabric by the Cultural Revolution and its precursors such as the Rectification Campaign, the Back-to-the-Village drive, and the Great Leap Forward. No doubt this high-temperature politics at home had its inevitable repercussions on foreign policy and this was precisely the period of China’s angry posturing and armed attacks on India. Significantly, tempers began to cool down with Deng’s rise to supreme power with his modernisation drive, and it is this cooling down at home that has brought back China to a sober frame of mind, so much so that the Panchsheel which had been cast away has again been restored.

One got a revealing sidelight in quiet discussions in China with old hands who could be regarded as Zhou Enlai’s boys and girls in the Foreign Office at Beijing, most of them now hibernating in retirement. Few in our country know that when Zhou visited Delhi in 1960, he came a desperate man hemmed in by extremist bigotry in the Chinese leadership; it was obvious his adversaries in the establishment were trying to denounce him for his soft policy of Panchsheel towards Nehru’s India. And so Zhou, according to this version, came to Delhi frantically trying to ward off his adversaries and so desperately looking out for a settlement of the border dispute; he was reported to have been heartened by Nehru’s reference to Aksai Chin as a place where “not a blade of grass grows”. But at that moment, Nehru was in no position to make any concession, incensed as his own party members along with the rest of the country had been by the clashes along the border together with angry polemics from Peking. While Zhou could not possibly have made any positive move which would be disowned by the hot-heads in the Chinese Government, the Delhi meeting in April 1960 was tense and angry, climaxed by Zhou’s marathon press conference touching the midnight at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It was like the unfolding of the inexorability of a Greek tragedy. Zhou Enlai, who was perhaps the most popular and most impressive of all our VIP guests from abroad in the first decade of our Republic, looked grave and grim as he boarded the plane next morning for Kathmandu.

Then followed six months of protracted official level examination of the border claims on both sides. The Indian side argued like competent lawyers as if they were establishing their claims before a Hague tribunal. The Chinese side concentrated on cross-examination questioning in detail the Indian side about the terrain that they claimed as their own which the Chinese were contesting. When the actual Chinese armed aggression in October 1962 pushed along the border, it was found that the points where they made the breakthrough were the points about which they had asked the largest number of questions at the border talks two years earlier, thereby acquainting themselves with our side of the disputed terrain. There were military experts in the Chinese team in the border talks. In other words, the official level talks in 1960 were used as preparatory to the armed attack two years later. In contrast, the Indian side was totally unprepared for the armed attack in 1962. This is now brought out very effectively by Major General D.K. Palit’s magnum opus. Palit can by no means be branded as a Krishna Menon-baiter—which reinforces the authenticity of his account.

In 1989, when the present writer went to China, he met an old friend who was close to Zhou Enlai’s circle. He narrated an amusing incident. In the 1962 attack, the Chinese had taken quite a large number of Indian jawans their POWs. An exhibition of war pictures was put up in Peking to show how the valiant PLA had routed the forces of “Indian expansiorism”. The photographs displayed showed ill-clad Indian POWs without boots and without great coats fighting on the high Himalayas. Instead of Indian expansionist designs, these proved how unprepared was the Indian Army to meet the Chinese aggression. When this was brought to the notice of Zhou, he at once ordered the exhibition to be closed down.
Those bizarre days are now over. Such was the fall-out of the politics of the Cultural Revolution on one hand, and the ceaseless US propaganda of the Dulles-McCarthy type on our side on the other that after the debacle of 1962, proud Jawaharlal Nehru was forced to write an abject letter to the President of the United States beseeching American arms. And soon after, the CIA planted a nuclear pack on top of the Nanda Devi to monitor the Chinese troop movements in Tibet—a hush-hush operation which came to light only in Morarji’s time.

In the new world liberated from the Cold-War mentality, it is but inevitable that the message of the Panchsheel has to be revived. And it is but appropriate that facing the pathetic imbalance of President Clinton’s foreign-policy forays, the Panchsheel should be recalled by its original authors. Li Peng speaking in Beijing and Narasimha Rao in New Delhi—the two govern-ments over which they preside, representing two billion of the world’s population, have the solemn responsibility of undertaking structural reform of international polity as the obsolescence of the Cold War complex has to be discarded.

We had bhai-bhai fraternisation with the Chinese, and in less than ten years they denounced us and attacked our frontiers and occupied territories beyond their own claim lines. And in another sixteen years, they wanted to restore normalcy in our relations with them. This is nothing to be surprised at. After all, as the wise among politicians say, there are no permanent friends, nor permanent enemies. There are only permanent national interests.

The five new points that Narasimha Rao has added to the Panchsheel reflects the concerns and urges of the entire developing world which constitute the massive majority of humanity as distinct from the minority of the G-7 trying to corner the wealth of the planet. In fact, Narasimha Rao’s five extra points for the Panchsheel deserves to be inscribed on the agenda of G-15. Here is the opening for redesigning the world order for the well-being of all its citizens and not just for the tiny minority overburdened by the venality and arrogance of power.

(An abridged version of this article appeared is The Hindu, June 29, 1994)

(Mainstream, July 16, 1994)

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