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The Panchsheel Agreement was considered as a significant step in fostering good relations between India and China. Mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence were the founding principles of Pancheel.

On June 18, some would probably still be thinking of the principles of coexistence called Panchsheel. 70 years ago, India and China had signed an Agreement (April 1954) later PM Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai issued a Joint Statement, recodifying, incorporating and offering a new framework of code of conduct in international discourse.

Post World War II the global order was barely emerging and stabilising while the geo-political landscape quickly turned into a divisive and dangerous theatre of Cold War adversaries with blocs led by the US and Soviet Union in a mission mode to convert the newly independent countries into their fiefdom and sphere of influence.

Civilisational states more often than not do not fall quickly into the trap of colonial travesty yet again. In this kind of highly competitive scenario between the superpowers to quietly undermine the other, despite the prevailing balance of power, India, achieving its independence, took a position of subjective and conscious non-alignment policy while Pandit Nehru took recourse to a more idealistic foreign policy.

Against this backdrop, not only India and China signed the five Principles of Coexistence but this was also adopted as the guiding principle at the Afro-Asian Bandung Conference in 1955 and later by the United Nations General Assembly in 1957 piloted by India, Yugoslavia and Sweden. They also became the fulcrum of the Non-Aligned Movement at Belgrade in 1961.

No one in their sane mind would debunk these Panchsheel principles which were a harbour of peaceful existence in a fractured world. In essence, these include mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in internal affairs; equality and cooperation for mutual benefit; and Peaceful coexistence.

Given the quest for an ideal scenario, these were widely appreciated and accepted except for the superpowers for whom geo-political geo-economic and ideological contestations and winning were the primary drivers. This is understandable.

But how these play out between the two initiators of these principles in the foreign policy domain is a history well known. For any agreements or understandings to be implemented between two countries’ genuine interests, serious intent sufficient countering capacity and mutual respect are essential but may not necessarily be sufficient conditions. Nehru claimed, ‘If these principles were recognised in the mutual relations (among states) then indeed there could hardly be any conflict.‘

Nehru was proved wrong owing to his failed China policy and perfidy by the Chinese leadership, which overtly may claim that both India and China have enough space in the world to grow together, but the Chinese don’t believe in it.

Nehru had the sane advice of Sardar Patel who wrote at length urging not to trust the Chinese. Kriplani and others did so too in the parliament. But Ambedkar, father of the Indian constitution and a Buddhist himself, warned Nehru quoting fundamentals not to take China seriously, “Since Panchsheel is the part of Buddhist philosophy and if the Chinese had an iota of faith in this they would have treated their Buddhist population differently.”

No wonder the 14th Dalai Lama (HHDL) sought refuge in India in 1959 and is a revered guest even as India continued to maintain and tried to improve relations with the People’s Republic of China over the decades. But Nehru had to wait until the 1962 debacle before his faith in the ‘Hindi Chini bhai-bhai’ slogan was shattered. Hence, a scholar Ram Madhav argued that we need to move beyond the Panchsheel which was affected by strategic deception and superficiality. If Chinese intransigence continues India may very likely do the course correction concerning its Tibet policy since in such a toxic environment business as usual can only happen in a fool’s paradise.

A quick analysis will reveal that China had started breaking or breaking each of the five principles of coexistence as it pursued and continues to pursue a hegemonistic approach towards India and other of its neighbours. The first three principles were violated in less than a decade. Mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty have been thrown out of the window and China continues to occupy a large part of Indian territory and some even acquired in Aksai Chin with the connivance of its now iron-clad friend Pakistan in the occupied Kashmir.

China‘s Belt and Road Initiative (2013) and its major tributary in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is yet another testament to the aggressive intent to violate even the status quo and territorial integrity of India. Its physical and cartographic aggression continues apace as the geopolitical situation in the current times becomes far more rankled and dangerous. China aims to get pole status to lead a group of like-minded nations in the ensuing Cold War 2.0 scenario.

Hence, strategic deception, wolf warrior diplomacy and nuanced neo-colonial approaches become part of a standard tool kit which it has successfully deployed in many cases. Overtly across its polemics Beijing, a master in the art of Grey Zone warfare, has continued to project the five principles as being the core of its foreign policy, which few believe as they witness the ground reality. But this gets lost in the din of equally venomous narratives coming from the other sides who have been masters in the past and want to be masters of the future as well. Hence clash of titans is guaranteed.

What about the rest of the world which is hoping to work with some freedom of expression and liberty to act in their interest in international discourse by following strategic autonomy as a preferred option? Well, the windows are limited by their internal weaknesses and external compulsions. They would prefer to support and follow the principles of Panchsheel, which ipso facto provides a sane and substantive framework for cooperation with other nations.

India, which still believes in these principles and through its mandate of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, advances and practices a new universalistic approach, ought to take the lead by imbibing the ideals for ensuring global access to global goods and global commons for global welfare through dialogue and diplomacy for peace and stability. This would have to be driven from a real strategic perspective as the idealistic parameters are deployed for broader acceptance.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Article Courtesy: First Post

By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd)

Ambassador is currently the Chairman at Confederation of Education Excellence. An Indian diplomat for over three decades. Worked as Trade Commissioner in New York and Deputy Head of Mission in Sweden, Russia, and Nigeria. He has also served as India’s Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta.