The discussions were postponed when Beijing objected to the participation of the Dalai Lama in the Global Buddhist Congregation in December.
Shiv Shankar Menon, India's National Security Adviser, and Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo are leading the two delegations.
This round should cover "the range of long-standing territorial disputes and other issues" an official communique said.
Dai said: "While working hard to develop itself, China is fully committed to developing long-term friendship and cooperation with India ...there does not exist such a thing as China's attempt to 'attack India' or 'suppress India's development'".
I am posting here a chapter of my book, Born in Sin, the Panchsheel Agreement. In the early 1950's India lost an opportunity of solve the border issue when she had all the cards in her hands, the Indian politicians then decided to give these cards away to show her great magnanimity.
At that time, Delhi was only interested by 'larger issues'.
India still pays for the foolishness of its leaders.
Born in Sin
In September 1952, before his transfer to Cairo, Panikkar had several meetings with Zhou Enlai who told the Ambassador that the downgrading of the Lhasa Mission was only the first step to pave the way for negotiations on ‘all outstanding problems’.
During the first months of 1953, Nehru may have felt that the situation was settling down in Tibet and slowly the Tibetans were accepting the invasion of their country by the Liberation Army as a fait accompli.
In September 1953, Nehru wrote to his Chinese counterpart that India was anxious to come to a final settlement about “pending matters so as to avoid any misunderstanding and friction at any time”. Quoting a letter sent one year earlier, he said that “No further steps have been taken since then to negotiate a settlement”.
It appears that different visitors and informants were briefing Nehru about the situation inside Tibet. It was reported that everything was quiet on the Roof of the World. In early December 1953, Nehru mentions that, he had received a letter from George Roerich, the Russian painter and scholar living in Kulu giving him more information. After admitting that “our Intelligence has looked upon them [the Roerich] with some slight suspicion although they have never had anything to get hold of,” Nehru told T.N. Kaul, the Joint Secretary in the China Desk in the Ministry of External Affairs:
His [Roerich] general report to me has been that things are very calm in Tibet and both the people and the Lama hierarchy have adjusted themselves to the new order. This is chiefly so because the Chinese have refrained from interfering in anything. The Tibetans are, therefore, not so apprehensive as they used to be.
As we have seen in the case of food supply to the Chinese troops and the sacking of the Tibetan Prime Ministers , the report was not completely true. The Chinese had begun interfering actively in the life of the Tibetans. In fact, they started meddling in the internal affairs of Tibet almost immediately after the signature of the 17-Point Agreement.
In the same letter Nehru requested Kaul to meet Roerich “to gain some information about conditions in Tibet, the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, etc.”
Nehru considered that the time had come to renegotiate the old Simla Convention signed in 1914 between the British and the Tibetans. He therefore decided to take the initiative and propose negotiations to resolve ‘all outstanding issues’. The talks were to begin in December 1953 in Beijing and were schedule to last a maximum of six weeks. Unfortunately, they would take four months to reach a conclusion. Kaul, one of the main negotiators in Beijing described the preparations for the Conference thus:
Many meetings and discussions were held and it was decided to sound the Chinese. Not unexpectedly they welcomed the idea. It was decided to send a small delegation to Peking to discuss the matter and reach an agreement, if possible. The spade work had already been done by Panikkar, Raghavan and me in Peking. The new Indian Ambassador to China, N. Raghavan, was appointed the leader and I the deputy-leader of the Indian delegation. Director, Historical Division, External Affairs Ministry, the late Dr. Gopalachari, was a member. His knowledge of history and facts of the Sino-Indian border was an asset. We were authorised to co-opt such other members of the Embassy as we found necessary. It was a small delegation, as delegations go, but convenient and closely knit.
Most of the correspondence or instructions during the following months will be routed through Kaul, one of Nehru’s Kashmiri blue-eyed boys.
In early December, the Secretary General put up a Note in which he defined the main points for discussions at what became known as the Beijing Conference. These points were:
1. The question of India’s frontier with Tibet,
2. Indo-Tibetan trade and trade agencies,
3. Freedom of movement of Indian and Tibetan traders and pilgrims,
4. Passports and visas,
5. Telegraph, post office and hospitals
6. Security guards and escorts and
7. Special position of Bhutan.
On 3 December 1953, Nehru replied to this Note giving the framework for negotiations to be held in Beijing regarding the relations between India and China and India’s interests in Tibet. He clarified the position to be adopted by the Indian delegation during the Beijing Conference. More particularly on the border question, though he generally agreed with the points made by the Secretary General, he chose to remain faithful to the Panikkar doctrine: “remain silent about the border”:
We should not raise this question. If the Chinese raise it, we should express our surprise and point out that this is a settled issue. Further, during the last two years or so, when reference was frequently made about Indo-Chinese or Indo-Tibetan problems, there has never been any reference to this frontier issue and it is surprising that this should be brought up now. Our delegation cannot discuss it.
Though Panikkar had been transferred more than a year earlier to Cairo, Nehru was still keen to consult him on China’s affairs. The former Ambassador had suggested a step further, he had written: “if China insisted on reopening the whole issues of the frontier, the Indian delegation could walk out of the conference and break off the negotiations.” Nehru was not as extreme as Panikkar, he did not recommend walking out of the Conference, his instructions were: “We should avoid walking out unless the Chinese insist on taking up this question. If such an eventuality occurs, the matter will no doubt be referred to us.”
To agree to discuss the border issue was for Panikkar an admission that there was a problem. But can wishful thinking take away an issue?
Nehru objected to the inclusion of some parts in Pakistan occupied Kashmir in the discussions. He pointed out that India was not in possession of these territories .
He also believed that it was important to keep the trade marts alive as he envisioned an increase in the commercial exchanges with Tibet in the future. He wrote: “Tibet is our natural market and we should develop it normally.” He was in favour of keeping the trade agencies functional: “Gartok is important. Yatung especially, and, to some extent, Gyantse are likely to become more important as trade between India and Tibet increases. They are on the main route. Therefore, it is eminently reasonable that we should have some trade agents there or at least at Yatung.”
The Prime Minister noted the case of a small village/principality called Minsar which was under the suzerainty of the Maharaja of the Jammu & Kashmir State . This principality located near Mount Kailash was supposed to provide the revenues to maintain the temples around the sacred mountain and the holy lakes. Being inside the Tibetan territory, Nehru thought that India should renounce her rights as a gesture of goodwill. He wrote:
Regarding the village of Minsar in Western Tibet, which has belonged to the Kashmir State, it is clear that we shall have to give it up, if this question is raised. We need not raise it. If it is raised, we should say that we recognize the strength of the Chinese contention and we are prepared to consider it and recommend it.
But the matter will have to be referred to the Kashmir Government. The point is that we should not come to a final agreement without gaining the formal assent of the Kashmir Government.
However, it does not appear that the Chinese raised the question and no reference seems to have been made to the Kashmir government.
The Indian rights to this small town were inherited from the Peace Treaty between Ladakh and Tibet signed in Tingmosgang in 1684. Apart from the confirmation of the delimitation of the border between Western Tibet and Ladakh, the Treaty said:
But the king of Ladakh reserves to himself the village of Minsar in Ngari-khor-sum, [Western Tibet] that it may be independent there; and it sets aside its revenue for the purpose of meeting the expense involved in keeping up the sacrificial lights at Kang-rin [i.e., Kailash], and the Holy lakes of Mansarowar and Rakshas Tal.
The note of the Ministry also mentioned some disputed areas in Hunza which is located in the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan. Nehru indicated that India could “hardly discuss these with them [the Chinese] and we can point out that all this area is under dispute with Pakistan.”
As for trade, Nehru felt that it should be restricted to the trade between India and Tibet. This remark once more proves that the purpose of the Beijing Conference was mainly to ‘update’ the Trade Regulations of 1914. We have to add that the Commerce Ministry had agreed with Nehru about the restriction of the Agreement to the trade with Tibet. Nehru noted that Tibet was India’s ‘natural market’ and that it should be developed. But here again, as in the case of food supply, he was ready to bargain:
As regards prohibited articles, this prohibition should generally continue. But we might be a little more generous in regard to petrol, etc. A few thousand gallons does not make any difference to us, nor does it make any great difference on the other side from the military points of view. But, as a bargaining counter, we might agree to relax our rules to a small extent.
A point was then raised by the Prime Minister: the right of Free Transit. According to a Convention signed in Barcelona in 1921, Tibet and China could claim free transit for goods from India. Nehru commented that the question of free transit of foreign goods from India hardly arise because China hardly purchases foreign goods. However, he thought that it would be interesting if China claimed the right under the Barcelona Convention of 1921: “That itself would slightly weaken China’s attempt to bypass or reject old conventions and customs.”
The Sikkim road, as we saw earlier, had been used for carrying food grains to the PLA. The interesting point here is: were the Chinese ready to recognize old treaties and conventions? In fact, the raison d’être of the Beijing Conference was that the Chinese were refusing to recognise the Simla Convention which they considered an ‘imperialist’ (or ‘unequal’) treaty signed on behalf of India by the British Empire.
It is perhaps Nehru’s perception that old treaties or conventions could be discarded or sent to scrap which most weakened the Indian stand. It is certainly a wrong interpretation in international law and it made it easy for the Chinese to tell their Indian counterparts “look here, McMahon was an imperialist, McMahon line is an imperialist fabrication, it is illegal ”.
On the one hand, India was ambiguous about the rights and obligations that she had inherited from the British and on the other hand she wanted the McMahon line to be recognised as the international border.The Indian stand lacked logic: in accepting that Tibet was only ‘a region of China’ and that China was entitled to discuss the Tibetan issue, without even referring the matter to the Tibetan authorities , India was not only nullifying the role and presence of the Tibetans during the Simla Convention, but also invalidating the main outcome of the Convention namely the McMahon Line. The disastrous consequences of this stand can still be seen nearly fifty years later .
Regarding the Karakoram High Road , Nehru held a pessimistic view, he thought that it was ‘exceedingly unlikely’ that India regain the territories annexed by Pakistan: “I do not know that it will serve any useful purpose for us to ask for the restoration of the old trade route between Sinkiang and Kashmir. That route passes through territory held by Pakistan. It is exceedingly unlikely that we shall get back this territory. However, there is no harm in mentioning this.”
Regarding Bhutan, Nehru did not want anything to be mentioned but in case the matter was raised by the Chinese, he directed the negotiators to make it “clear that External Affairs of Bhutan are under our direct guidance,” the Chinese will have to deal with us in regard to External Affairs relating to Bhutan.”
This was the framework for the Beijing Conference.
India’s Wider Considerations
The briefing as retold by Kaul is very different from the Note sent by Nehru to the Secretary General of the Ministry of External Affairs. While we just saw that the Note dealt with down-to-earth problems of trade, pilgrimage or even the border question, Kaul mentioned only what he calls ‘broad guidelines’ for negotiations which is in fact a very vague general policy. Whom should we believe? What was the true briefing of the negotiators? We should perhaps have look at Kaul’s guidelines before tentatively answering this question.
In his book “Diplomacy in War and Peace” , Kaul wrote: “Before our departure for Peking, the following broad guidelines were formulated.”
Kaul then began explaining that Nehru's idea was “to evolve a method of peaceful and friendly co-existence with the Peoples' Republic of China, in spite of our different political, social and economic systems.” For the Indian diplomat, it was the first time in history that ‘a modus vivendi between a communist and a non-communist country’ was to be worked out and in very specific terms.
He continued by quoting Lenin’s idea of ‘peaceful co-existence’, the Charter of the UNO, the Kellog Pact and other documents which were ‘general declaration’ of intentions.
Nehru wanted to go a step further: it is what Kaul considered unique in the negotiations. For the first time, a bilateral agreement between two sovereign independent countries was to be signed insisting on peaceful co-existence. One can seriously question the interpretation of Kaul. These five principles are the plain and ordinary principles on which normal relations between independent nations are based, but for Kaul considered that Nehru was the first world statesman to formulate these ideas and ideals into a code of conduct governing bilateral relations and that it was remarkable that these principles could apply to two countries with different social ideologies and forms of government.
The negotiations lasted from the last day of 1953 till the end of April 1954. If we analyze Kaul’s report, we see that his contention that a consensus evolved week after week, seems more an after-thought than a hard reality.
What was supposed to be merely a trade agreement, to replace the Simla Convention and Anglo-Tibetan Trade Regulations of July 1914, took a disproportionate magnitude and became a full-fledged philosophical and ideological exercise of diplomatic idealism .. Nevertheless, we should not forgot that the primarily purpose of the Beijing Conference was to regulate the trans-border trade and traffic between India and Tibet and replace the earlier Trade Regulations which were, for Nehru and Mao, ‘imperialist’ in nature.
Ideologically Kaul gave his own justification for the ‘briefing’ before the Agreement:
In India, one school looked upon China as the main threat to India's security in the North and North-East. It was further developed by some into a thesis that India should align herself with America and the West to meet this threat, as she could not meet it alone.
In Kaul’s opinion, this thesis however firstly overlooked the fact that it was not easy for the Western powers to get involved in a war between China and India, and for them to provide help to the Indian subcontinent. Secondly, “it also ignored the fact that a country like India, with its tradition, history, culture, policy of non-alignment, and its size and potential, could not become the client-state of any other power.”
The main argument was that as the world was living in the middle of the Cold War, India should not ‘push’ China further into the Russian camp. On the contrary, an alliance between the Asian giants could augur a loosening of the Cold War, creating the space for a third ‘neutral’ block. But this theory does not consider the fact that Mao’s China was not interested in creating a third pole. Though they had strong divergences with Moscow , Beijing nevertheless always remained in the socialist world.
General Samuel B. Griffith, the famous expert in Chinese warfare wrote an interesting analysis of Communist military strategy:
Chinese political dogma postulates certain axioms fundamental to long-term grand strategy. Principal among these is the stereotyped concept of a bipolar world in which the forces of ‘imperialism’ are inexorably arrayed against the forces of ‘socialism’. This concept specifically excludes the possibilities of ‘non-alignment’ and neutralism. There can be no middle way, no third road, no fence straddling. A nation must, in Mao’s word, ’lean’ to one side or the other.
As Panikkar had wished few years earlier, it was perhaps Kaul’s intention to ‘convert’ Mao. Once more, one wonders at the connection between this naive and romantic diplomacy and the trade regulations for Tibet. But Kaul continued with another argument which is more difficult to follow:
They [the proponents of the first school of thought] forgot the facts of geography and geo-politics that India was physically much closer to China and Russia and their combined hostility could prove a much more serious threat to India than only China's or that of the West…
He then described the other trend in the Indian politics:
The other school was represented by the doctrinaire wing of the Indian communists who saw in the liberation of China the panacea for India's troubles, and therefore, wanted India to go the Chinese way. They wanted to have an alliance with both China and Russia and go communist. They were supported by some camp followers and fellow travellers who waxed eloquent on the sentiment of Asian brotherhood and "Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai.”
It is surprising that Kaul could analyze the situation as though the Communists in India were the only proponents of the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai policy. Kaul concluded that: “Nehru belonged to neither school of thought. He was a realist, proud of India's heritage and conscious of its destiny.” But history is witness that none else than Nehru and his advisors fathered the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai policy which ballooned into incredible proportions in the mid-fifties before being punctured in October 1962.
Kaul said that he had tried to recapture Nehru's thoughts and added that Nehru: “believed in non-alignment because his pride in India would not allow any other country or group of countries to dominate our policies.” Unfortunately this attitude was not supported by the necessary strength and consistency and ultimately collapsed on the slopes of the NEFA.
The historian Parshotam Mehra in a well-researched book Negotiating with the Chinese: 1846-1987 brings forward another aspect of the India’s China policy when he quotes J.S. Grant, the Acting British High Commissioner in Delhi:
A perceptive contemporary British observer of the Indian scene who called New Delhi's attitude towards China as 'the most complex piece in the puzzle of Indian foreign policy' was convinced that 'fear is really their [Indians'] basic motive.' New Delhi, he argued, was 'horrified at the possibility of war' and was determined 'at all costs to avoid any involvement in any clash with China: In the event, it had resolved 'to cultivate and retain friendly relations with China' for achieving which it was prepared to pay 'almost any price .'
As indicated earlier, in its wish to align with China, India could not remain non-aligned. Thus one often comes across a violently anti-American stance in Nehru’s writings (and even more in Krishna Menon’s). Both had probably many good reasons to hold such views, particularly when they realized the biased attitude of the West on the Kashmir issue, but to be caught in a vicious circle of reaction and counter-reaction could certainly not be the basis of a foreign policy. The more Nehru’s government reacted to the West, the more the West tended to believe that Pakistan was a surer bet and a safer ally.
Around that time, South Block saw the Beijing Conference as an opportunity to ‘break’ the alliance between the Soviet and the Chinese, thereby creating a third ‘neutral’ pole. The Indian diplomats were certainly presumptuous to presume that India could break the axis Moscow-Beijing.
The theory of a non-aligned movement and more particularly the motivations behind India’s move to come closer to China to counterbalance the two blocks (preventing China from leaning towards Russia) can now be seen as a myth.
One can accuse China of many things, but as long as Mao was alive, the communist ideology remained unwavering. In spite of its own ‘fraternal’ problems with Russia. China never considered India a natural ally, the Chinese leaders had too much contempt for India to do so.
Kaul may have thought: ”Mao's China, though communist, had its own brand of communism which had not yet become dogmatic as in Stalin's Russia,” but movements like the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution have proven him wrong.
Another of Nehru’s motivations for signing an agreement with China was that it would be the first of long series of bilateral agreements between the various free nations of Asia. Burma and Indonesia were the next in Nehru’s mind. Slowly, the scope of the movement would increase. He thought that it would eventually bring peace which would spread, first in Asia and then in the world. A movement of peaceful coexistence of which he would represent a sort of radiating centre.
While Indian diplomats seemed obsessed with ‘broader perspectives’ and ‘larger issues’, in contrast, the Chinese were very down to earth with their problems: they had objectives which had to be reached, and no philosophy or emotion was involved. This reminds us of the message written by a Chinese Emperor on a Stone Pillar in Lhasa after a war between Tibet and Nepal: the Emperor wrote : “If a people abandon military pursuits and make literature their chief object, they become unable to safeguard their former position. This should be known.”
The Indian diplomats never understood that the Chinese could think or react differently from them. To convert them to Indian philosophy was a mere utopia. Again Kaul confused the issues, putting thereby the Indian side in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis China:
Negotiations would be restricted to trade and cultural inter-course between India and the 'Tibet region of China’. However it was important not to lose sight of the broader perspective and larger interests of putting Sino-Indian relations on a proper footing.
The border question was not to be raised by us. We would not express any doubts about the border. If the Chinese raised it we would affirm that the border was traditional, historical and well defined by treaties, geographical and other features.
The Beijing Conference was to redraft the Simla Convention and the Trade Regulation of 1914, but the border which was the direct and main outcome of this Convention was not to be raised as an issue!
We can conclude that though this general policy vis-à-vis China may have been discussed informally, it seems clear from the detailed instructions of the Indian Prime Minister that the Beijing Conference was about the regulation of trade with Tibet. It is another matter that, in delaying an early agreement, the Chinese managed to derail the main purpose of the Conference and sidetrack it onto the vague level of eternal friendship (or brotherhood) between India and China.
Here again we quote again General Griffith:
Generally, the Chinese are predisposed to indirect, rather than direct, means, an approach summarized in the phrase “sheng tung; chi hsi” (“Uproar in the East; Strike in the West”). This was a basic ingredient in the successful operations carried on by the Eight Route Army and its predecessor and successor armies. Obviously, the principle is not confine to tactical application.
For Mao and Zhou, there was only one struggle. Diplomacy and armed struggle were two aspects of the same combat. In the case of the Beijing negotiations, the Indian delegation themselves were creating the ‘uproar’ with their ‘wider’ issues, China would strike on the only point which mattered to it at that time: official recognition of Tibet as a ‘region’ of China.
India and the larger perspectives
In early 1953, Nehru had once again explained to the Lok Sabha his decision to press for the recognition of China by the UN as it was: “not a question of any one of us liking or disliking the present Government in China or approving or disapproving of China's revolution, but it is a question of one of the biggest countries in the world not being represented there, not being recognised there.”
Since Mao’s take over of China at the end of 1949, Nehru had constantly, in all fora, been the champion of the recognition of Communist China’s status. Many in Nehru’s circle thought that this kindness would be repaid one day and that China would return the help and support given by India. Nehru’s first ‘confirmation’ of this view came in June 1953, when an agreement was concluded in the Korean war between the UN and the Northern Command on the repatriation of the prisoners of war in Korea. The resolution, finally accepted by China was very similar to the one proposed earlier by New Delhi. The fact that under the Armistice Agreement it was at the insistence of China that India was named Chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission vindicated Nehru’s view that China had now become India’s friend.
The Indian Communists pushed harder than anybody in North Korea’s and China’s favour. During a debate in the Lok Sabha on 23 December 1953, a communist member, Hiren Mukherjee urged the Government to provide as much help to the Chinese and the North Koreans as possible in order to enable them to gain their objective [to take over the South]. But many dissident voices were heard both from the socialist benches as well as the Hindu Mahasabha.
V. G. Deshpande criticized India's unnecessary interest in the Korean question and observed: "So far as Korea is concerned we had been warning the Prime Minister that he should not ... go out of his way to please or displease other countries so that China may be recognized..."
The nomination of India as Chairman of the Neutral Commission for Korea encouraged South Block to see the situation very positively; China’s attitude towards India was changing. Kaul view of the situation was optimistic:
The Tibet problem was, for the moment, out of the way. India's attitude on Korea and refusal in the UNO to brand Peking as aggressor had made an impact on the Chinese leaders. India's leading role in repeatedly pressing for the right of the Peking Government to represent China in the UNO was a principled and consistent stand which China appreciated. India's efforts to bring about a cease-fire in Korea impressed China of India's helpful and positive role in international affairs.
With Tibet and Korea out of the way: wider perspectives could now be tackled.
Kaul had another argument: he thought that the only way to stop China from dominating her neighbours, was to have a formal agreement with China. Unfortunately, history has shown that China has never been too attached to pieces of papers or agreements. If Mao considered the atom bomb a ‘paper tiger’, one can imagine what a mere piece of paper was!
Kaul analyzed the situation differently:
… there was danger of a strong, united, isolated and expansionist communist China dominating her neighbours. India would be the main obstacle in this. But Nehru argued that if India and China could work out a modus vivendi of respecting each other's sovereignty and integrity and non-interference in internal affairs, it would be a step away from the cold war and prevent its penetration into Asia.
China had more urgent tasks ahead than to take on India, but Beijing did use the Beijing Conference as a unique opportunity to formalize its occupation of Tibet. Another Chinese interest was the ‘non-interference’ provision: it could help them to keep the Americans away in the Indochinese peninsula.
Kaul concluded: “This was the best time to make a rapprochement with China. It might still be possible to reach a tacit understanding on our border and other problems peacefully.”
We should not forget that though Tibet had been ‘liberated’ , the treaty signed between the British and the Tibetan government in Simla in 1914 was still in force. It had to be replaced by new one where the ‘ownership’ of China would be accepted once and for all by India. Once again, the situation demonstrates the confusion and incoherence of the Indian side. On the one hand Nehru said that there was no border problem and the issue should not be mentioned and on the other hand, Kaul said that it was the occasion to reach an understanding on the border.
The Indian diplomat further analyse: “It seemed there were also two main trends of thought in China. One, represented by Chou En-lai, hoped for a peaceful, cooperative co-existence with India. The other represented by the so-called "radicals" wanted to humiliate India. Mao was perhaps, somewhere in the middle.”
Kaul was also certainly wrong in his analysis of the political currents within the Chinese leadership. Mao was the supreme leader and the other members of the Politburo merely executed his strategy.
As for the negotiation, it had been decided that if there were any doubts during the course of the talks, these would be referred to Delhi for final decision.