Panchsheel Pol­i­tics

Al­though the Chi­nese project the Panchsheel as the cor­ner­stone of their for­eign pol­icy, many in In­dia are ques­tion­ing the rel­e­vance of the five prin­ci­ples.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

In­dian an­a­lysts are ques­tion­ing the rel­e­vance of the five prin­ci­ples of mu­tual co­ex­is­tence.

On June 28, 2014, In­dia and China, be­ing sig­na­to­ries of the Panchsheel Agree­ment, cel­e­brated its 60th an­niver­sary, ex­chang­ing greet­ings and pledg­ing to pro­mote its aims. The con­cept of the Five Prin­ci­ples (Panchsheel) – mu­tual re­spect for sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, mu­tual non-ag­gres­sion, non­in­ter­fer­ence in each other's in­ter­nal af­fairs, equal­ity and mu­tual ben­e­fit and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence – has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for the Chi­nese as they project it as the cor­ner­stone of their for­eign pol­icy.

For In­dia, it is more a mat­ter of rit­u­al­ism. There­fore, many crit­ics ques­tion its rel­e­vance. The ma­jor­ity of In­di­ans con­sider the Panchsheel as un­fa­vor­able while only a few think that it can im­prove the equa­tion between In­dia and China – two fast-emerg­ing pow­ers that share long phys­i­cal bor­ders but con­flict­ing geostrate­gic in­ter­ests.

For the 60th an­niver­sary of the Panchsheel, In­dia and China de­cided to set the year 2014 as the In­dia-China Friend­ship and Ex­change Year. Both coun­tries will hold a se­ries of events to com­mem­o­rate this im­por­tant mile­stone. The Vice Pres­i­dent of In­dia, M. Hamid An­sari, while ad­dress­ing the Com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 60th An­niver­sary of Panchsheel in the Great Hall of Peo­ple in Bei­jing, said that it was a very spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

While An­sari ex­pressed op­ti­mism about the future of the Panchsheel, a large ma­jor­ity of In­dian an­a­lysts are rather skep­tic and have reser­va­tions about what they call ‘the real in­ten­tions of China’. Some have al­ready asked Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to re­con­sider his sched­uled visit to China in Septem­ber 2014. A sec­tion of the In­dian me­dia has al­leged that “while the In­dian VP was in Bei­jing, a new map show­ing Arunachal Pradesh as part of China was re­leased along with the Chi­nese Army’s in­cur­sions in Ladakh.”

In a hard-hit­ting ar­ti­cle, R. N. Ravi, a for­mer spe­cial direc­tor of the In­tel­li­gence Bureau with 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence of China, as­serted that “the Panchsheel Agree­ment is damnosa here­datas, a dark legacy be­queathed by Nehru to In­dia.”

Sim­i­larly, Ram Mad­hav, a mem­ber of the Cen­tral Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee of the RSS and au­thor of ‘Un­easy Neigh­bours: In­dia and China af­ter Fifty Years of the War’, ob­served that “the big­gest prob­lem in Sino-In­dian re­la­tions is the ut­ter lack of in­ge­nu­ity and in­no­va­tive­ness.” He said that even af­ter six decades of the Panchsheel and five decades af­ter the bloody disen­gage­ment due to the 1962 War, lead­ers of both coun­tries could not find “new and out-of-the-box an­swers to the prob­lems plagu­ing their re­la­tion­ship.”

Ram Mad­hav says that the Panchsheel was signed as a treaty of peace­ful co­ex­is­tence over the obituary of Ti­betan in­de­pen­dence. That was why par­lia­men­tar­ian Acharya Kri­palani said that the agree­ment was “born in sin.” Ac­cord­ing to him, the Panchsheel met its end when the Chi­nese were found vi­o­lat­ing In­dian bor­ders in Ladakh. A for­mal death note was writ­ten by Mao Ze­dong a few months be­fore the 1962 War, when he told Zhou that what In­dia and China should prac­tice is not “peace­ful co­ex­is­tence” but “armed co­ex­is­tence.”

The war that fol­lowed ended with hu­mil­i­a­tion and loss of ter­ri­tory for In­dia, leav­ing be­hind a mas­sive bor­der dis­pute that con­tin­ues to haunt the two coun­tries. How­ever, this did not de­ter

the In­dian and, to some ex­tent, the Chi­nese lead­er­ship in con­tin­u­ing with what Mad­hav called “the de­cep­tion of the Panchsheel.” The his­tory of Sino-In­dian re­la­tions in the last five decades, he says, is re­plete with in­stances of vi­o­la­tions of sovereignty, mu­tual an­i­mos­ity, at­tempts to up­stage each other and a gen­eral ill-will. The Chi­nese have mostly been on the wrong side of the so-called Five Prin­ci­ples of Peace­ful Co­ex­is­tence.

Though ex­press­ing his dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the Panchsheel, Ram Mad­hav still be­lieves that In­dia and China can co­op­er­ate with each other on the prin­ci­ples of sov­er­eign equal­ity and mu­tual sen­si­tiv­ity and Modi and Xi can chart a new course in Sino-In­dian re­la­tions “if they are pre­pared to un­shackle them­selves from rit­u­al­ism and sym­bol­ism. Both have the abil­ity and the sup­port to do it.”

Seema Sen­gupta, a Kolkata-based jour­nal­ist and colum­nist, ob­served that “per­haps no other Sino-In­dian treaty had such a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact in evolv­ing an en­vi­ron­ment of mu­tual trust, se­cu­rity and con­fi­dence than the Panchsheel Agree­ment of 1954.” How­ever, she said it was not con­cep­tu­al­ized as a con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sure in terms of se­cu­rity given the fact that the treaty was all about stream­lin­ing Sino-In­dian trade co­op­er­a­tion in Ti­bet. It en­tailed move­ments across the bor­der by lo­cal traders and pil­grims with­out pass­ports and visas. In re­al­ity, the agree­ment ef­fec­tively put an end to Ti­bet’s ex­is­tence as a dis­tinct na­tion state. She says that skep­tics ar­gue that the Panchsheel left the door ajar for China to mil­i­tar­ily dom­i­nate the strate­gic Ti­betan plateau and, in fact, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment wasted no time in build­ing a vast net­work of roads and airstrips that stretched up to In­dia’s north­east­ern fron­tier. This is what In­dia per­ceives as Bei­jing’s con­tin­ued ‘ag­gres­sive pos­ture’.

One may safely con­clude that com­mem­o­rat­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the Panchsheel Agree­ment seems to be noth­ing more than an at­tempt by the Chi­nese to re­fute the­o­ries as­so­ci­ated with the so-called China threat and con­vince In­dia and other coun­tries of its ‘peace­ful devel­op­ment’. It is still doubt­ful whether the Panchsheel can help re­solve long-stand­ing dif­fer­ences – in this con­text it has cer­tainly lost its rel­e­vance. How­ever, Delhi and Bei­jing can agree to mod­ern­ize the in­fra­struc­ture at the Nathu La Pass con­nect­ing Ti­bet and Sikkim and ini­ti­ate full-fledged trade along with find­ing ways to ex­pand the cur­rent limited op­por­tu­ni­ties for Hindu and Bud­dhist pil­grims who want to visit places of wor­ship on both sides of the bor­der. The writ­ers, part­ners in law firm Huza­ima & Ikram, are ad­junct fac­ulty mem­bers at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ence.

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