Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Time for a newer, stronger Panchsheel Agreement with China

Apa Pant, Political Officer in Sikkim and
Maj. S.L. Chhiber, Consul General in Lhasa in Tibet
My article Time for a newer, stronger Panchsheel Agreement with China' was published by NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

It is always interesting to read 2 versions of the same event.
On Thursday, the new Indian PM received a phone for his Chinese counterpart. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) reported: “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.”
Now, we have Xinhua’s communique of the same encounter.
The official Chinese News Agency gives a slightly different description: “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 …Li said China was willing to further strengthen cooperation with India.”
According to Xinhua, the Chinese Premier also “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.”
PIB mentioned that the 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. India wanted to acknowledge the importance of China. Mr. Modi also asserted that “China was always a priority in India’s foreign policy” and he welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries.
Prime Minister Modi extended an invitation to President Xi Jinping visit India later this year.
No mention of the Panchsheel in the Indian version. That’s good.
But had Mr. Li done his homework before ringing up Mr. Modi?
The Panchsheel Agreement is composed of two parts: the preamble (the Five Principles) and the content (regarding trade between India and Tibet and pilgrimage rights for Indians and Tibetans). The title itself, 'Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India' was the crux of the accord. India, which had cultural and trade interest in Tibet, acknowledged for the first time in 2000 years that the Roof of the World was only a mere ‘Region of China’.
One of the greatest Nehruvian blunders was to advertise for the preamble and ignore the content.
The only objective of the ‘Indo-Tibet’ Agreement (today remembered as the Panchsheel) was to regulate trade and pilgrimage between India and Tibet. It specified several points of entry into Tibet.
If Beijing really wants to revive the Panchsheel Agreement, 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 while China could have a Consulate in Chennai and in one or two places in India.
Then, Article IV of the Agreement mentions: “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. Let this road be reopened!
Why should Beijing refuse? Just because Demchok, which for centuries has been the first Ladakhi village, is today occupied …by China?
Many clauses of the 1954 Agreement were good; another 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. Why not a similar arrangement between India and China?
On the ground, the years between 1954 and 1962 (the agreement was valid for 8 years only) were disastrous for 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 tragi-comic incident.
In May 1959, Swami Brahmachari Atma Chaitanya, an Indian pilgrim on his way to Kailash, was arrested and quizzed by the Chinese border guards, as he crossed the Tibet border. The MEA later explained to Beijing: “[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 poor Swami was accused to try to poison Tibetans en route …with homeopathic medicines.
Not only were Indian pilgrims harassed, but the routine functioning of the Consulate General of India in Lhasa as well as the Indian Trade Agencies, were constantly disturbed. Continuous 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 became Chinese nationals and were restricted to return to India. Those who did not accept were harassed and arrested.
The details of those 8 years are sordid.
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, with the Chinese accusing the Indian Consul General Arvind Deo to have destroyed some of India’s own properties in Lhasa and Yatung.
At the end, the age-old relations within the Indian Himalayas came to naught.
If today China and India want to live by the Spirit of Panchsheel, let the age-old relations between India and Tibet revive, let trade and pilgrimage flourish again.
By the way, why is Mr. Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister rushing to Delhi in the midst of the inaugural session of the new Parliament? Would he have spotted Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister amongst the guests during Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony? He may want to know if there is any change in India’s Tibet policy, otherwise, why this hurry.

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