Back to basics

Print edition : July 30, 2004

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai and other Chinese leaders in Beijing on October 10, 1954. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

India and China celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Panchsheel agreement.

THE 50th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Panchsheel agreement was celebrated throughout June in both China and India. The Panchsheel, or the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, were initiated and proposed by China, India and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The principles were first expounded by Chairman Mao Zedong immediately after the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Announcing the crucial aspect of Chinese foreign policy at the ceremony marking the formation of the People's Republic of China, Mao emphasised that his country was ready to establish diplomatic relations with all countries willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. These principles were included in the common programme adopted by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Central government.

In June 1954, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai visited India and Myanmar. Before the visit considerable diplomatic spadework was done to find lasting solutions to some of the contentious issues that had cropped up between Beijing and New Delhi. Most of the problems related to Tibet and the China-India border, which China described from the outset as "issues left over by history pending solutions". After the revolution, China insisted that all the privileges inherited by India from the British colonial masters over Tibet should be revoked.

The Indian government wanted to retain the privileges and continued to consider Tibet as an autonomous region. Between 1947 and 1951, the Indian government continued to recognise Tibet as an autonomous buffer state between India and China. Only Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was recognised, not its sovereignty. New Delhi formally assured the Tibetan government in Lhasa that all treaties of the British period would be respected. An Indian Army officer was sent to Lhasa as adviser to the Tibetan government in 1949 and Tibetan delegates were invited to the historic Asian Relations Conference in Kolkata in 1947.

However, in a spirit of goodwill, both countries held negotiations on their relations in the Tibet region from December 1953 to April 1954. Zhou Enlai formally put forward the Panchsheel for the first time when he met members of an Indian government delegation in December 1953. The five principles stood for mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. India agreed to consider Zhou Enlai's formulation as the guiding principle for negotiations between the two countries and it was incorporated into the "Agreement Between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India on Trade and Intercourse Between the Tibet Region of China and India".

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao addressing a meeting held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 28.-WILSON CHU/REUTERS

On June 28, 1954, during Zhou Enlai's visit to India, a joint statement was issued in which the two countries re-affirmed the Panchsheel as the guiding principle in their bilateral relations. On June 29, a China-Myanmar joint statement was issued when Zhou Enlai stopped over at Yangon (Rangoon, at that time). China, India and Myanmar formally proposed that the Panchsheel should guide the conduct of international relations. The proposals were path-breaking for the times, especially in the background of the Cold War that had divided the world into two rival camps.

The Panchsheel has since then found wide acceptance. Most of the treaties and bilateral documents signed by China with more than 160 countries contain references to it. There is a consensus, particularly among Asian countries, that the Panchsheel provides the basis for the creation of a just and equitable international order. It is also in harmony with the goals of the United Nations Charter. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping remarked: "After all, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are the best principles to pursue. They are well defined, clear and concise. We should take the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as norms to handle relations among countries."

FORMER President K.R. Narayanan, who was India's Ambassador to China from 1976 to 1978, is of the view that the Panchsheel has the same significance for international relations as it had 50 years ago. "In fact, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence are the basic principles for human relations," said Narayanan in an interview with a Chinese newspaper. Former Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Qian Qichen, speaking at an international seminar on the Panchsheel in Beijing in the second week of June, said that the "Five Principles weathered the vicissitudes of the international situation and were gradually and universally accepted by the international community as the fundamental norms guiding international relations". The Panchsheel, he added, should become the bedrock of democracy and legality of international relations.

At a rally held in Beijing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence on June 28, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that the Panchsheel served "the fundamental interests of the two peoples". The Chinese leader said that it had also contributed to peace, stability and development in Asia and the world. He expressed the hope that the Panchsheel would help China and India live in harmony and remain friends forever while at the same time "shelving differences and striving for mutual benefit and a win-win situation".

Former President K.R. Narayanan (centre), External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, and Communication and IT Minister Dayanidhi Maran (left) releasing a special cover to commemorate the 50th anniversary in New Delhi on June 28.-RAVEENDRAN/AFP

A "special cover" to mark the historic occasion was released in New Delhi on June 28. The function, hosted by the External Affairs Ministry, was a high-profile affair, attended by the heads of various diplomatic missions. External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh said in his speech that Panchsheel was envisaged as a framework not just for China-India relations but for the conduct of bilateral relations with other countries too. "It is appropriate therefore that China and India have decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Panchsheel this year in a befitting manner. Our leaders have exchanged messages, felicitating each other on this memorable occasion." Natwar Singh said that the emergence of a "monolithic world system" is "antithetical to a democratic world order". He said that the concept of Panchsheel was all the more relevant as it helped both big and small nations in articulating their concerns and interests in the new international order.

Pointing out that that the fulcrum of economic and political activity was shifting towards Asia, Natwar Singh emphasised that the future of Asia could not be delinked from the future of India and China. He said that both countries could together, through constructive diplomacy and economic strength, contribute not only to "the overall peace and stability of the world, but also to improving the lot of humanity in every sphere". The External Affairs Minister said that the new Indian government was fully committed to the process of "normalising, strengthening and expanding relations with China". He said that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would try to solve all outstanding issues between the two countries "in a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable manner".

China is happy with the progress made on the diplomatic front. However, Chinese diplomats note that the new Indian government has put China at number five on its foreign policy priority list. The UPA government has given higher priority to improving bilateral relations with the United States, Pakistan, the European Union and Russia.

The Chinese government would also like the new government to curb the "splittist" activities of the Dalai Lama and his followers on Indian territory. The Tibetan exile groups are still allowed to organise demonstrations against Chinese diplomatic missions in the country. The Indian government puts curbs on them only when Chinese dignitaries are on official visits to the country. According to diplomatic sources, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government allowed seven eastern Turkmenistan extremists from China's Xinjiang province to enter Indian territory. Media reports indicate that the NDA government was also opposed to the commemorative celebrations. Apparently, some stalwarts of the previous government still believe that the Panchsheel agreement resulted in India surrendering its special diplomatic status in Tibet.

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor