How to read a China-In­dia en­counter

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - BY AMIT BARUAH (The Hindu)

Dif­fer­ing In­dian in­ter­pre­ta­tions of a brief May Day ex­change be­tween China’s Chair­man Mao Ze­dong and In­dia’s charge d’af­faires Bra­jesh Mishra in 1970 de­layed the re­turn of an Am­bas­sador to Bei­jing by six years. The diplo­matic open­ing to In­dia from the Chi­nese came af­ter years of non-con­tact and has been the sub­ject of much anal­y­sis in both coun­tries. In a note for Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi, Nat­war Singh — posted in the PMO at the time — said the en­counter was “not an earth shat­ter­ing event”. Mr. Singh, who went on to be­come In­dia’s Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter, felt it would be wrong to dis­miss the meet­ing as a “ca­sual en­counter”, but at the same time one should not “read too much into it”. This note is among hun­dreds of doc­u­ments col­lated by Av­tar Singh Bhasin, for­merly with the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs (MEA), in a five-vol­ume doc­u­men­tary study of In­di­aChina re­la­tions, pub­lished in as­so­ci­a­tion with the pol­icy plan­ning di­vi­sion of the Min­istry. Im­me­di­ate ca­ble Af­ter his en­counter at the Tianan­men Square, Mr. Mishra sent a “most im­me­di­ate” ca­ble to Mrs. Gandhi and Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Di­nesh Singh, the same day quot­ing Mao: “‘We can­not keep quar­relling like this. We should be friends again. In­dia is a great coun­try … we will be friends again some­day.’ I replied ‘We are ready to do it to­day’.” “In any­thing con­nected with Chi­nese lead­ers it is dif­fi­cult to say whether it [the con­ver­sa­tion] was pre­med­i­tated or not. My judg­ment is that Mao was fully briefed be­fore ar­riv­ing on the [Tianan­men] rostrum [where other diplo­mats were also present]. In any case, ex­pres­sion as above of friend­ship by Mao him­self should be given the most weighty con­sid­er­a­tion,” Mr. Mishra in­formed New Delhi in a four-para­graph ca­ble. On May 6, a Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial, Yang Kung Su, told Mr. Mishra af­ter re­peated queries, “Our great leader, Chair­man Mao, has talked to you per­son­ally. That I think is the great­est con­crete ac­tion on our side and it is the prin­ci­ple guid­ing the re­la­tions be­tween China and In­dia.” Dur­ing the meet­ing, Mr. Mishra lamented the fact that there had hardly been any con­tact be­tween the two coun­tries in the past 11-12 years and sug­gested “con­crete ac­tion” to im­prove re­la­tions. “There is no trade be­tween us. Even our Em­bassies are not full fledged.” In June 1970, Mr. Mishra came to Delhi and met Mrs. Gandhi and her trusted of­fi­cials in­clud­ing P.N. Hak­sar and T.N. Kaul. He sug­gested that In­dia should send an Am­bas­sador to Bei­jing since G. Parthasarathy had com­pleted his term and Delhi did not ap­point a re­place­ment. In a 2006 in­ter­view to the In­dian For­eign Af­fairs Jour­nal, Mr. Mishra, who went on to be­come Prime Min­is­ter A.B. Va­j­payee’s Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary, said Mrs. Gandhi was in­clined to sup­port send­ing an Am­bas­sador but Mr. Hak­sar “turned the meet­ing around”. Mr. Mishra sug­gests in the in­ter­view that ne­go­ti­a­tions for an Indo-Soviet friend­ship treaty were at an ad­vanced stage at the time. The late diplo­mat also said in the in­ter­view that in early 1971, Chi­nese Premier Zhou En­lai con­veyed his con­grat­u­la­tions through him in Bei­jing to Mrs. Gandhi for her elec­tion vic­tory, sug­gest­ing con­ti­nu­ity in Chi­nese pol­icy of mak­ing up with In­dia from the May 1 con­ver­sa­tion. It would be fur­ther five years be­fore Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Y.B. Cha­van an­nounced in the Lok Sabha on April 15, 1976, that K.R. Narayanan, who rose to be Pres­i­dent of In­dia, would be In­dia’s new am­bas­sador to China.

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