Friday, May 30, 2014

The Defunct Panchsheel

Indian Staff in front of the Indian Trade Agency
in Yatung, Tibet (courtesy: Yuvraj Singh)
(At the end of this article, I have posted the Indian (PIB) and Chinese (Xinhua) communiques regarding the phone conversation between Prime Minister Modi and Premier Li Keqiang.
You can see that the Chinese side still speaks of the Five Principles, without mentioning that the Panchsheel Agreement was ONLY about Tibet.
If Beijing wants to revive the Panchsheel, a new life should be given NOT ONLY to the Spirit of Panchsheel, but also to the content of the Agreement. 
Let India and China reopen the Himalayan passes, the Consulate General in Lhasa, the Indian Trade Agencies in Yatung, Gartok and Gyantse!). 

Several foreign policy ‘experts’ have suggested that India should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement; I always wonder if these ‘experts’ even know the name of the agreement referred to as ‘Panchsheel’.
The Panchsheel Agreement is composed of two parts: the preamble (the Five Principles) and the content.
For Beijing, the title itself, 'Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India' was the raison-d’ĂȘtre of the accord; it was a grand victory for Beijing (and a crushing defeat for Nehru): for the first time in 2,000 years, India acknowledged that Tibet as a mere ‘Region of China’.
India had to pay dearly, and is still paying 60 years after the agreement for the idealist policy of her first prime minister, who advertised the preamble and ignored the content.
The only objective of the ‘Indo-Tibet’ Agreement was to regulate trade and pilgrimage between India and Tibet. It specified several points of entry into Tibet: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and routes: Shipkila, Mana, Niti, Kungri Bingri, Darma and Lipulekh passes.” Apart from the first one located in Himachal Pradesh, the other passes lie in today’s Uttarakhand.
More interestingly, Article IV mentions: “Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus River may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.”
This refers to the Ladakh road, via Demchok, which for centuries was used by the Indian pilgrims wanting to visit the Kailash-Manasarovar area.
Today, the border post is closed.
Why is Beijing adamantly refusing to reopen this route? Probably because Demchok, for centuries the first Ladakhi village, is today occupied by China!
The Agreement lapsed in April 1962 and 6 months later, India and China fought a bitter war over Tibet, the object of the Agreement.
Some clauses of the 1954 Agreement were good: for example, “inhabitants of the border districts of the two countries who cross the border to carry on petty trade or to visit friends and relatives may proceed to the border districts of the other party …and shall not be required to hold passports, visas or permits.”
It was how the relations between the Himalayan region and Tibet had worked for centuries; India and Tibet were neighbours and friends.
But the spirit of the agreement was never implemented, with tragic consequences for India (and Tibet).
While ‘experts’ continue to lecture about the Grand Principles, the agreement expired 52 years ago.
One of the disastrous outcomes of the agreement is that the Indian Government did not use the occasion to bargain, against the relinquishment of India's rights in Tibet, for a proper delimitation of the border. Delhi considered these ‘privileges’ as an imperialist heritage to be spurned by a newly independent India.
I could quote literally hundreds of examples showing that the ‘Panchsheel’ resulted in the constant harassment for Indians: officials, traders and pilgrims in Tibet.
I shall mention a tragic-comic incident.
In May 1959, Swami Brahmachari Atma Chaitanya, an Indian pilgrim on his way to Kailash, was arrested and quizzed the Chinese border guards, as he crossed the Tibet border. A complaint letter from the MEA to Beijing explains why: “[The Swami] was harshly interrogated by the Chinese soldiers, his baggage searched, and some of his belongings confiscated. These included some homoeopathic medicines which he was accused of bringing with him with the intention of poisoning the people of Tibet.”
The Swamy was detained for five days, then he was allowed to proceed for his pilgrimage. When he crossed back to India, he was once again interrogated and the Chinese officials asked him to confess that he had brought ‘poison’ with him. He was courageous enough to refuse. His medicines were however confiscated.
This was followed by a lengthy exchange of notes between Delhi and Beijing.
A Chinese note says: “A laboratory test by the authorities concerned in Tibet already proved that the so-called ‘frequently required drugs for self use’ contained in ten odd bottles …were poisonous matters comprising such highly poisonous drugs like Arsenic Alb, Merc. Cor., Aconite, Phosphorus, Nux Vom and so on. No one with a little commonsense would think that such a big variety of highly poisonous matters being in the possession of a single person can become the frequently required drugs for self use.”
Hundreds of such notes or memoranda exist, not only on pilgrimage issues, but more importantly on the routine functioning of the Indian Trade Agencies in Gyantse, Gartok and Yatung as well as the Consulate General of India in Lhasa. Constant pestering and administrative hurdles hindered the reconstruction of the Indian Trade Agency in Gyantse which was washed away during flash floods in July 1954.
The agency was never rebuilt due to the petty attitude of the Chinese officials in Gyantse, Lhasa and Beijing. When the Agency was officially closed in June 1962, the Indian authorities were requested to take back to India the construction materials (gravel, wood, etc.) with them! Such was the Spirit of Panchsheel.
Indian traders were repeatedly victimized by the Chinese who imposed exorbitant taxes and new unilateral import or export restrictions.
One of the most targeted communities was the Khachis, the Kashmiri Muslims, who for centuries had been trading between Tibet, Kashmir and Central Asia. They suddenly become Chinese nationals and restricted to return to India. Those who did not agree were harassed and arrested.
The details of these 8 years are sordid. I have collected hundreds of these letters, notes, etc. all of them quoting the great ‘Panchsheel’ agreement. The situation was so bad that in June 1962, India decided not to renew the Agreement and close down its 3 Trade Agencies. The Consulate General was closed in December 1962; here again, amidst high drama, the Chinese accusing the Indian Consul General, Arvind Deo to have destroyed some of India’s own properties in Lhasa and Yatung.
The Panchsheel Agreement heralded nightmarish years for the foreign office officers posted in Tibet as well as the Indian traders and pilgrims. At the end, the age-old relations within the Indian Himalayas came to nil.
The Chinese Ambassador in India, Mr. Wei Wei stated after soon Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony: “We have every reason to believe that as long as China and India join hands to pursue common development, we will realise our beautiful dreams and make new positive contributions to peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, and the world at large.”
This is fine, but China and India should just forget the Panchsheel and let the two nations start on a clean slate. Too many bitter souvenirs are attached to the Panchsheel.
Common men in India would like to circumambulate Mt. Kailash and take a holy dip in the Manasarovar, why not reopen the Demchok road to start with?

***

From Press Information Bureau 
PM Modi speaks to Premier Li Keqiang of China
May 29, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the telephone to H.E. Mr. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China this afternoon at the latter’s initiative. Premier Li congratulated Prime Minister Modi on his victory in the recent general elections and conveyed the Chinese government’s desire to establish robust partnership with the new government of India for further development of relations between the two nations.
Prime Minister Modi thanked Premier Li for his message of felicitations. Noting that China was always a priority in India’s foreign policy, he underlined his government’s resolve to utilize the full potential of our Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with China and his keenness to work closely with the Chinese leadership to deal with any outstanding issues in our bilateral relations by proceeding from the strategic perspective of our developmental goals and long-term benefits to our peoples. He welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries.
The two leaders agreed to maintain frequent high-level exchanges and communication. Prime Minister Modi extended through Premier Li an invitation to President Xi Jinping to pay a visit to India later this year.
Prime Minister Modi’s telephone conversation with Premier Li was his first with a foreign Head of Government since taking over as Prime Minister of India. 


From Xinhua News Agency
Chinese premier discusses bilateral ties with new Indian PM
May 29, 2014
BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in a telephone hook-up Thursday, told new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that China was willing to enhance mutual trust and regarded each other's development as opportunities.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which was jointly initiated by China, India and Myanmar in 1954, Li said China was willing to further strengthen cooperation with India and jointly push ahead the construction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor.
China was also willing to enhance exchanges in the humanistic field and other areas and look for more converging points of interest to jointly make contributions to the peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world, Li said.
Li congratulated Modi's swearing-in as India's new prime minister, saying that, with concerted efforts by both sides, relations between China and India had developed significantly in recent years, and the two countries had jointly explored a way to relate to each other, in which cooperation was actively explored and differences were properly managed and controlled.
China and India were both countries with a long history of civilization, and they were also the two largest developing countries and most vigorous emerging economies in the world, the Chinese premier said, adding the two countries were natural cooperation partners.
The cooperation between and common development of China and India would not only benefit their peoples, but also make a major contribution to settling the issue of development of the entire mankind, Li said.
Modi said India and China were friendly neighbors and friendly exchanges between their peoples had a long history.
India was delighted with the achievements China had made in development, Modi said, adding developing relations with China was one of the important tasks of India's diplomacy.
India's new government attached great importance to India-China relations from a strategic high perspective, and was willing to work with China to advance bilateral cooperation in various fields, solve existing issues through dialogue, and achieve friendly and harmonious co-existence and common development, Modi said.
In 1954, China, India and Myanmar initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which stand for mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.
Modi, the 63-year-old Hindu nationalist leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was sworn in Monday as India's new prime minister.

No comments: