Intro: India is still paying dearly for the Panchsheel agreement for the idealist policy of her first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who though advertised the preamble, ignored its content.
Sometimes history loves to play itself in the reverse mode. The high volume celebration of 60th anniversary of 'Panchsheel Agreement' by the Chinese government in Beijing and near total indifference to this anniversary in New Delhi presents an interesting example.
Following the signing of this agreement on April 29, 1954 in Beijing, New Delhi government had gone ecstatic, terming it as a great diplomatic achievement of Jawaharlal Nehru. Indian Government's propaganda machinery presented the inclusion of 'Panchsheel' in the preamble of this agreement as a great contribution of a visionary Nehru to a war torn world that was desperately gasping for peace. Thanks to his obsession for Panchsheel, he also got it adopted as a guiding principle in the Bandung declaration that took place a year later.
Interestingly, it is President Xi Jinping who is now presenting himself as the greatest champion of 'Panchsheel' and asking the world to follow it, especially the section that calls for “non interference in other countries’ internal matters”.
In his heart touching speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi Jinping was oozing with idealism as he called for “Adhering to territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression and non-interference in internal matters, and peaceful co-existence — the basics of Panchsheel….to continue to remain relevant and grow.” His audience included India's Vice President Hamid Ansari who was sent by New Delhi to Beijing to participate in China’s celebrations of the 60th anniversary of this India-China agreement.
|By signing a treaty with China 'Tibet Region of China' India had knowingly or inadvertently recognised Tibet as a part of China.|
The preachings of Chinese Premier must have amused the people and governments of countries in the South East Asia, who, of late, have been on the wrong end of Chinese bullying on all of these five accounts. But observers, who keep a close watch on situation inside China, did not miss the point that he was actually telling the world to keep off the freedom movements which are taking serious shape in China’s two celebrated colonies Xinjiang and Tibet during recent years.
While the freedom loving Uyghurs (Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia) – subjects of China live primarily in Xinjiang (‘Republic of East Turkistan’ until Mao’s People’s Liberation Army occupied it in 1949) are on a bombing and knifing spree across China, and more than 130 Tibetans have taken to self immolation to protest against China’s colonial rule over their country, occupied since 1951.
It is notable that New Delhi chose to demonstrate considerable constraint during President Jinping’s speech that came in the middle of three successive events which had the potential of leading to a similar unfortunate diplomatic situation that arose in 1979, when India had tocall back its foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in the middle of his Beijing visit when China invaded Vietnam to 'teach a lesson' to the latter.
As Beijing was reverberating with the joy of rediscovering its love affair with Panchsheel, India felt humiliated by the Chinese army's aggressive trespass into the Indian section of Pangong Lake in Ladakh; Beijing now issued a new official map showing parts of Jammu & Kashmir in addition to showing Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. On the other hand, China’s official media announced Beijing's decision to initiate survey for 1800 km long railway line which will connect Kashgar with Pakistan's Arabian Sea naval port of Gwadar through parts of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. All of these events put question mark on Chinese Premier’s levels of honesty towards the five principles enshrined in Panchsheel.
A review of the 'Panchsheel Agreement' of April 1959 and its follow up on the two sides of the Himalayan borders in ensuing years, brings to light a chain of unfortunate events which seriously question the sudden enthusiasm of Chinese towards the agreement and the spirit of 'Panchsheel'.
It is interesting to note that even though Nehru and Chinese leadership have been always referring to this agreement as the 'Panchsheel Agreement' between India and China, yet the term 'Panchsheel' finds no mention either in its title, or any of its six articles, or in any of official notes exchanged between the two sides on this matter. Not even in the fiery correspondence between two sides on this agreement in the following years.
The title of the agreement, ” Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on Trade and Inter-Course Between Tibet Region of China and India” shows that the scope of this agreement was limited only to India's relations with Tibet under the new Chinese dispensation.
On the operative side of it too, the agreement proved a near total disaster and concluded on a very unhappy note as it expired in April 1962. By signing a treaty with China 'Tibet Region of China' India had knowingly or inadvertently recognised Tibet as a part of China.
For Chinese Premier Zhow Enlie, who has been shuttling between Beijing and Delhi like a pilot, this was one of the greatest diplomatic victories since the inception of new People's Republic of China in 1949. It was only following this official writing of Tibet to China by India that the rest of world, especially the western block under USA, nearly gave up their campaign in favour of Tibet against Chinese occupation. The western campaign against China could pick up again only after Dalai Lama fled from Tibet and took refuge in India in 1959.
In return for this bonanza from his 'Hindi Bhai' Pandit Nehru, Zhou agreed to cater to the former's fancy for the Indian philosophic concept of ‘Panchsheel’ and included it just in the preamble of the agreement with no consequence to the agreement. In addition, Zhou smartly extracted back almost all major concessions and privileges that India enjoyed in Tibet as the heir of British India.
For example, India gave up its right to keep an army contingent in Tibet and surrendered its major assets like the post, telegraph and telephone network in Tibet which Nehru himself branded as 'imperialist heritage' handed down to India by its colonial masters.
Article-1 lays down the right to run its trade agencies at Yatung, Gyantse and Gartok in Tibet, which India was already running in Tibet since British days, but in return of this 'concession' India had to agree to let China establish its trade agencies in New Delhi, erstwhile 'Calcutta' and Kalimpong. Similarly, Article-2 that gave right to both sides to operate three trade markets on each other's side identified ten places for traders from both side to meet and do barter trade.
Article-3 assured easy passage to pilgrims from both sides; Article-4 identified six passes for the pilgrims and traders to travel to the other side; Article-5 refers to easy documentation for travellers and trade representatives from both side; and, Article-6 refers to the life span of this agreement to only eight years.
It is interesting to note that Nehru wanted this agreement to be implemented forever, but China insisted on keeping it operative only for eight years to buy time for the development of military infrastructure in occupied Tibet. It might then be a coincidence that China waged war against India within a few months after the agreement concluded and expired in April 1962.
Many notes sent by the Indian trade officials and consulate from Tibet to New Delhi during 1954-62, now in public domain, are testimony to how China created such difficult conditions for Indian trade officials and businessmen that the Indian government was forced to give up on renewal of the agreement and quit Tibetan region.
In his note following his visit to Lhasa to meet the Indian Consul General between 3 to 19 July 1960, Indian Trade Agent, Mr. Jangpangi wrote that most of Indian traders were either hounded out by the Chinese officials through public boycott, imposition of very high taxes, or by sending some of them to jail.
No surprise that the agreement died an unceremonious death and was followed by a war between the two sides. Keeping the said in view, the net profit and loss to respective sides one can see why Xi Jinping is overwhelmed by the spirit of 'Panchsheel' while India looks the other way.
-Vijay Kranti (Author is a senior journalist and a keen observer of India-Tibet-China relations)