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The biggest problem in Sino-Indian relations is the utter lack of ingenuity and innovativeness. Six decades after the formal engagement through Panchsheel and five decades after the bloody disengagement due to the 1962 War, leaders of both the countries struggle to come up with new and out-of-the-box answers to the problems plaguing their relationship.
When there are no new ideas, one resorts to symbolism and rituals. These are projected as the great new ideas to kickstart a new relationship. However, there is nothing great or new about them. They are the very same worn out and tried-tested-and-failed actions of the last several decades.
The Panchsheel itself is one ritual that successive Indian governments have unfailingly performed. Vice President Hamid Ansari will be visiting Beijing today to uphold India’s commitment to the ritual. The occasion is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Panchsheel Agreement.
It was exactly six decades ago, on June 28, 1954, roughly two months after the formal signing of the Panchsheel, that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited India. He and then-prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had issued a historic statement, reaffirming their commitment to the five principles enshrined in the Panchsheel to “lessen the tensions that exist in the world today and help in creating a climate of peace”.
Contrary to public perception or propaganda, Panchsheel was actually an agreement between the “Tibetan region of China and India” on “trade and intercourse”. It did include five principles, like mutual respect, mutual non-aggression, mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence, etc, but the very title of the agreement was a defeat for India.
The British had, at least from the Simla Accord of 1912 until they left India, not conceded that Tibet was a part of China. Unfortunately, one of the first foreign policy deviations of the Nehru government was the signing of the Panchsheel, wherein India had formally called the Tibetan region as “of China”. Thus the Panchsheel was signed as a treaty of peaceful coexistence over the obituary of Tibetan independence. That was why parliamentarian Acharya Kripalani called the agreement as “born in sin”.
The Panchsheel met its end just three months after its signing, when the Chinese were found violating Indian borders in Ladakh in late-1954. A formal death note was written by Mao Zedong a few months before the 1962 war, when he told Zhou that what India and China should practice is not “peaceful coexistence” but “armed coexistence”. The war followed and ended in humiliation and loss of territory for India. It left behind a massive border dispute that continues to haunt both the countries.
However, this didn’t seem to deter the Indian and, to some extent, the Chinese leadership in continuing with the deception of the Panchsheel. The history of Sino-Indian relations in the last five decades is continued…