Talking ties

Print edition : July 07, 2017

Chennai: 28/11/2016: The Hindu: Front Line: Book Review Column:Title: Smart Diplomacy, Exploring China-India Synergy. Author: P S Suryanarayana.Publication: World Century Books Publications release.

The author seeks to explore the potential synergy between China and India and how it can change the course of geopolitics.

THE author, Pisupati Sadasiva Suryanarayana, has worked as foreign correspondent of The Hindu for 35 years and is currently Editor (Current Affairs) at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) in Singapore. His book is on a theme of enduring significance, rendered even more relevant by the current tensions in the bilateral relations between India and China. His purpose is to explore the potential synergy between China and India and to figure out how it can be exploited and how the course of geopolitics might change if it is exploited.

In his foreword, Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore says that after the United States-China relationship, the China-India relationship is the second most important bilateral relationship in the world. There was a time when India and China together accounted for almost half of the world economy. Koh believes that the two economies are likely to become the two largest ones in the future.

The reader will note that for Koh it is China’s bilateral relations, whether China-U.S. or China-India, that matter above those of others. Is there an element of Sinolatry (worship of China), rather fashionable these days, in such a world view?

The author, “thinking the unthinkable”, has conceptualised the idea of a “China-India Smart Zone as a shared mindscape that might become a postmodern sequel to the old geo-cultural Indochina, the two being completely distinctive, though”.

There are, in all, six chapters and three appendices. The titles of the chapters and their sequencing show the thoroughness of research and presentation: Sunrise Powers of the Twenty-First Century, Ideologies of the Heart and the Mind, Interests and Concerns, Synergies and Power Politics, A Creative Scenario, and Talking the Walk Towards. The appendices are China’s Perspective on India, India’s Perspective on China, and An Internationalist Perspective on China-India Ties.

The author has devoted many pages to discussions on the origin, meaning and relevance of Panchsheel . First proclaimed in 1954, Panchsheel is an ideology. Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru “purveyed them as products of the cerebral—as well as emotional—intelligence of both their countries”. It is “conceivable” that the adoption of Panchsheel reflected the first attempt at generating “diplomatic synergy”.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, speaking in Beijing on June 28, 2014, on the 60th anniversary of the enunciation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence, essayed a reinterpretation of Panchsheel “in the globalised context of the 21st century”. To quote Ansari: “We need a new paradigm for global action. Our destinies are intertwined. Our quest is, should be, for a framework in which opportunities and challenges for the betterment of our societies coexist. In this endeavour, Panchsheelcan act as a catalyst to help us better coordinate our efforts, enhance mutual understanding, share development experiences and tackle transnational threats more effectively.”

The reader might wonder why the two countries cannot “better coordinate their efforts”, “enhance mutual understanding”, and so on without invoking Panchsheelall the time. After all, foreign policy is based on interests. Younger readers might wonder why there is so much ceremony and fuss about Panchsheel . For the 50th anniversary, K.R. Narayanan, former President, went to Beijing. Why is it that no anniversary is celebrated in India to which a VVIP from China comes?

In fact, the author fails to raise fundamental questions about the motivations of the two proponents of Panchsheel , namely, Mao Zedong’s China and Jawaharlal Nehru’s India. Mao honestly believed that political power came from the barrel of a gun. For him, politics was war without bloodshed and war was politics with bloodshed. Why did Mao, with such ideas, sign Panchsheel, which agreed more with Nehru’s idea of inter-state relations?

China, when it was planning and building a road through Aksai Chin, a territory it knew India claimed, wanted to lull India into believing in China’s benevolent and pacific intentions. Once the road was completed and after Nehru granted asylum to the Dalai Lama in 1959, it was time to let India know where it stood.


The author’s historical narration is at times perplexing. “Within five years of the founding of the PRC [People’s Republic of China], Chairman Mao of the governing Communist Party of China (CPC), and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai devised a strategy of befriending India” (emphasis added). The reader would like to know why China waited for five years and what it was doing during those five years.

In July 1949, Liu Shao-chi in an article under the title “Nationalism and Internationalism” described newly independent countries such as India, Burma and a few others as “colonies and semi-colonies”. Nehru went to the U.S. weeks after the foundation of the PRC on October 1, 1949, and told President Harry Truman of his intention to recognise the PRC. Nehru explained that the PRC was not a threat to peace in Asia and that the U.S. should accept the political realities. Truman resented what he was told and rejected Nehru’s request for financial assistance.

World Culture published in China reported that Nehru had gone to the U.S. to express his “willingness to accept the role of the principal slave of U . S . imperialism in the Far East in the campaign against Communism” (emphasis added). The insults continued, but Nehru urged the United Nations to seat China as a permanent member of the Security Council. China never thanked India for championing its cause. It assumed with the arrogance of the “Middle Kingdom” that there was no need to express gratitude. China was permitting India to serve it. Young readers would have expected the author to put India-China relations right from 1949, including the 1962 war, in a proper historical context.

Often the author tends to see the history of India-China relations through a lens made in China. The discussion on the genesis of the 1962 war is unsatisfactory and will leave a young reader rather confused. It is not suggested that the author should surrender to patriotism and give an account that puts all the blame on China. A holistic account of the 1962 war should have been given. There were mistakes on India’s part, but essentially Mao, as he clarified later, resented Nehru’s granting asylum to the Dalai Lama and wanted “to teach [Nehru] a lesson”.

The author raises a few questions about Panchsheel, and some of them are rather odd. One such question is, Did China violate Panchsheelin 1962? The answer is incomprehensible: “In those historical circumstances, Mao’s withdrawal from India after the Himalayan War left open the question of China’s adherence to the letter and spirit of the Five Principles” (emphasis added).

The author has argued that since Mao’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” from May 1966 to October 1976 “completely overshadowed” Panchsheel, its restoration by Deng Xiaoping in 1988 is of great significance. The argument does not hold. The author makes the mistake that many Indian scholars, and even the Indian government, have made from time to time: to think textually rather than contextually. If official announcements are to be taken seriously without taking note of intentions and actions, analysis gets paralysed.

The author discusses R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and argues that the R2P concept, “as systematised by the U.N., is based on safeguards against wilful external interventions in the internal affairs of any sovereign state”. The reader will find it difficult to agree, considering the aftermath of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) intervention in Libya, which currently has three governments and two parliaments. The West “justified” the intervention by invoking Security Council Resolution 1973.

On page 267, the author says: “As I visualise, a key economic issue to be watched, going forward, will be whether India will remain a Least Common Denominator (LCD) country and whether China will sustain itself as a Macro Economic Denominator (MED) country.” Frankly, the reader would have appreciated some explanation of LCD and MED.

The first appendix is an interview with Ambassador Luo Zhaohui, in which he gives a Chinese perspective on India. He talks at length without saying anything much. The next one is an interview with Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary, easily the best part of the book. The last appendix is the interview with Ambassador Koh, who reiterates his well-known views on the growing importance of Asia, meaning China.

Obviously, China does not believe in practising the “smart diplomacy” advocated by Suryanarayana. Otherwise, why is China making so much fuss about India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group ? The author is reluctant to say in plain English that Nehru tried to mobilise the synergy between India and China and failed. We know why that happened. If China wants to mobilise the synergy, it should show its willingness through action and not words. This central point he has missed out. The author is not alone in this regard.

Ambassador K.P. Fabian is author of Diplomacy: Indian Style .

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