On China, when shall we learn the lessons?
In dealing with Beijing, New Delhi has since the 1950s been persuaded by the myth of Chinese warmth for India and Indian interests. The much-heralded Panchsheel was a disaster that few are willing to accept
Several years ago, during a conference in an Indian university, the chief guest, a senior Indian diplomat who had served in the UN, suddenly cited the Panchsheel Agreement between India and China: “It was the best thing that Nehru did as Prime Minister”, he said. Having worked on the subject, I was flabbergasted. How could an intelligent person who has seen the files and is supposed to understand geopolitics, say this? The agreement was independent Indias worst sell-out.
India gave away its assets and rights in Tibet (military escorts, trade agencies, trade mats, dak bungalows, telegraph lines, Indian enclave, etc) while getting nothing in return. But in the mind of many romantic thinkers, the ‘Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India’, signed April 29, 1954, in Beijing, has remained glamorous for its preamble, containing the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.
For TN Kaul, who was one of the Indian negotiators, India was just getting rid of her colonial past: “But, more important was the fact that they were vestiges of imperialist domination and violated the principle of equality, Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy was not a replica of British policy.” At that time, most Indian diplomats, having to imitate the voice of their master, sang the same tune, though Tibet, an independent nation for nearly 2,000 years, lost its freedom in the deal. Lhasa had not even been consulted.
For the Indian Prime Minister, it represented “an attempt, the first in post-World War II history, to put bilateral relations between the two big countries of Asia on a principled basis.” When Nehru presented the agreement in Parliament, he was in his revolutionary mood; he proclaimed: “Now we must realise that this revolution that came to China is the biggest thing that has taken place in the world at present, whether you like it or not.”
In the same speech, he summed-up the Panchsheel Agreement thus: “No one should invade the other, no one should fight the other... this is the basic principle which we have put in our treaty.” Forgetting that China had just invaded Tibet, Nehru concluded, “In my opinion, we have done no better thing than this since we became independent… I think it is right for our country, for Asia and for the world.”
That a diplomat could repeat the same thing 50 years later, greatly surprised me; he had obviously failed to remember that eight years after the signature, Nehru was ‘betrayed’ by Zhou Enlai, when Communist China attacked India.
But was he really betrayed? I recently came across a fascinating document which shows that some diplomats were fully aware of China’s game. On March 18, 1954, five weeks before the signature, N Raghavan, the Indian Ambassador to China (who was negotiating the agreement in Beijing), sent a personal note to the Prime Minister: “It was drawn up on the basis of my own observations and experience as also of my study of Chinese relations with us since the advent of New China. I have tried to take as objective a view as possible”, he wrote.
The Ambassador told the Prime Minister, “The Chinese, unlike our warm-hearted people, are not emotional by nature, and while the Indian people often display an emotional approach towards China, the Chinese themselves have none such towards India… Any friendship [in China] is evaluated from the standpoint of its usefulness to China.”
Hindi-Chini bhai-bhaiwas entirely an Indian myth.
The Ambassador’s note shows that Nehru had been warned several years before the situation deteriorated on the border, culminating with a short war in October 1962.
Raghavan remarks: “After a careful examination and objective analysis of the various trends, expressed and implied I came to certain conclusions.” He saw two main periods during his tenure.
The first one was between November 1952 and December 1953, “the period of India’s active participation in the settlement of the Korean question, was not only an extremely trying time in Sino-Indian relations, but was, to some extent, a period of revelations”.
The Ambassador wrote to the Prime Minister that China remained “correct and friendly, without being warm and cordial”, but the communists “prepare the way for the cultivation of warm and cordial relations with the ‘People of India’, as distinct from the Government of India”.
Beijing waited the “for the emergence of a ‘People’s Government’ and to do what they can to advance and accelerate such emergence”, but until then, they “play down India and belittle the achievements of her present Government including its contribution to world peace and progress”, Raghavan noted.
The Chinese aim was to project India “as a capitalist country, suffering from all the economic and political ills of capitalism, colonialism and feudalism; …awaiting ultimate liberation by her people”.
Beijing made sure that “India does not increase her stature in the international fields so that China’s ultimate role as the leading Asian Power will in no manner be affected or threatened”. This sounds familiar to this day, ie thwarting India’s bid to join the NSG or have a seat in the Security Council.
Raghavan notes that China never gave credit to the Indian Government for its role in the Korean conflict because, “to the Chinese mind, no credit was due”. The Ambassador added: “It was thought that the Indian Government could not have pursued any policy other than one of utmost assistance to China as the Indian people would not have allowed anything else to be done.” During a Party’s secret session in Beijing in February 1953, it was stated: “Indian Government, as it is today, is a capitalist Government and to that extent, not reliable; India, as she is today, cannot be considered a friend, but is useful, as she is more or less certain to remain neutral in any conflict.”
Raghavan admitted, “It is true that for centuries China remained self-centered. No other country seemed to exist for China.” He added: “At times, one is led to wonder whether there exists a lurking feeling in some Chinese circles of rivalry — even of jealousy — a fear that India may be a threat to Chinese leadership of Asia.”
Later, when Beijing did not need Delhi anymore for the Korean conflict, India was completely ignored; Raghavan's conclusion was: “Perhaps it is felt that any publicity concerning Indian achievements would not be helpful to the new regime in China in its propaganda to establish Chinese superiority in all fields.”
Nehru did not listen to the warning. Has the situation changed today? Today, South Block is more busy tweeting than looking into the past. It is a real pity. What about the mindset in Beijing? Has that changed since 1954?
If it has, Beijing should demonstrate it by siding with India in the latter’s fight against terrorism.
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