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Conference on "60th Anniversary of Panchsheel Relevance for India-China Relations"

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  • June 11, 2014

    The East Asia Centre, IDSA, in collaboration with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in New Delhi, organised a one-day conference titled “60th Anniversary of Panchsheel: Relevance for India-China Relations” on 11 June 2014. The conference had three sessions, besides the inaugural one. The Chinese delegation included former Chinese Ambassador to India, Mr. Zhou Gang, Professor Shen Dingli of the Fudan University, Mr. Ye Hailin from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Prof. Chen Jidong from the Sichuan University and Prof. Deng Junbing of the Sundaya Consultancy of Association of Former Diplomats of China. The Welcome address was delivered by Dr Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA, followed by the Keynote address by His Excellency Ambassador Mr Wei Wei. A Special Address was delivered by Shri Tarun Vijay, Honourable Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. The Indian participants included former Indian Ambassador to China, Nalin Surie, former Ambassador R.S. Kalha, Prof. Sujit Dutta from the Jamia Millia Islamia University, Prof. Madhu Bhalla from the University of Delhi, Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Mr. Jayadeva Ranade from the National Security Advisory Board and Dr. Jagannath Panda, Research Fellow& Centre Coordinator, East Asia in IDSA.

    Inaugural session

    Welcoming the participants, the IDSA Director General, Dr. Arvind Gupta, underscored that the five principles of Panchsheel provide a basis for not only interstate relations but also the construction of a new international order. While the coming together of the two great civilisations led to great expectations, the warmth between the two countries was rather short-lived and the psychological scars of the 1962 war stayed on. The boundary issue continued to remain unsettled and constituted a major obstacle in the development of bilateral relations. The two counties had shown maturity in restoring their bilateral relations and had developed consensus concerning these relations.

    India and China were sensitive to the emergence of new global and regional realties as the older world order gave way to a newer one. These changes had generated fresh challenges and also offered opportunities for the two countries to work together. India and China needed to cooperate if this century was to be the Asian century. In what ways could the two countries revive the spirit of Panchsheel and work together for their mutual benefit and for regional and global peace? How relevant was Panchsheel in today’s world characterised by globalisation, which cut across boundaries and intense mutual dependencies?

    Delivering the keynote speech, the Chinese Ambassador to India, His Excellency Mr. Wei Wei traced the trajectory of Panchsheel and emphasised that its principles constituted the fundamentals of international law, which had contributed to peace, stability and development in Asia. The Panchsheel principles had inspired the methodology to handle the problems left over by history and to settle international disputes by peaceful means and provided a theoretical foundation for a more fair and reasonable international order. There was a need for multi-polarisation of the world and greater representation of developing countries in international affairs. The UN, G20, SCO, BRICS and other multinational regimes needed to get full scope for the role they played, with a view to make international governance more than just reasonable.

    In today’s scenario, Panchsheel could be instrumental in guiding states in diplomacy. India and China needed to follow their independent foreign policies, uphold the spirit of non-alignment, work for a new international order and support equal sovereignty among all states, insisting that the right of all nations to choose their own social system and path of development should be respected and protected. India and China also needed to promote a new security concept featuring mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination. President Xi Jinping had in the recent Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) spoken about building common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security in Asia. While no country should impose its ideology or development model on the other, disputes among countries needed to be resolved through dialogue and consultation and not the use or threat of force. The BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor was an example of implementing Panchsheel. China was willing to work on similar lines jointly with other countries for the greater benefit of the people of the region.

    The speech of Joint Secretary, East Asia, Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Gautam Bambawale, was read out. Mr. Bambawale said that Panchsheel provided an alternative voice to the newly independent countries in Asia. Nehru and Zhou Enlai elaborated their vision of Panchsheel as the framework not only for India and China but also for relations with all other countries to lay a solid foundation for peace and security in the world. Panchsheel gave substance to the voice of the newly established countries who were seeking space to consolidate their hard-won independence as it provided an alternative ideology dedicated to peace and development of all as the basis for international interaction. India and China were celebrating the year 2014 as a year of friendly exchanges and their bilateral relationship had reached a stage where it could be consolidated and taken to the next level. The two countries maintained a good momentum of high-level contacts and exchanges and the intensity of their defence exchanges had deepened further. Expressing concern over trade imbalance in India-China economic relations, he called for greater Chinese investments in India, particularly in the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. Furthermore, peace and tranquillity in the border regions was an important guarantor for development and continued growth of the bilateral relations. Both India and China needed to accommodate and be sensitive to each other’s concerns and aspirations and see each other as equal partners for development. They needed to focus on mutual complementarities to realise the untapped potential of this strategic and cooperative partnership.

    Shri Tarun Vijay, the Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha delivered the Special Address. He pointed out that there never was a more opportune time to improve India-China relations. He added that Panchsheel in 2014 is viewed in a positive manner because of the tremendous changes in India-China relations. He underscored that ‘togetherness’ as a key in the bilateral relations and both countries explore solutions to our issues through negotiations. He congratulated the Chinese people for being warm and generous and noted that China has always displayed warm regards for India. Due to the established talks and bilateral mechanisms that India and China had peaceful relations despite ‘provocations’. While citing that the two countries have established strategic partnership and series of agreements to increase mutual trust, and increased people-to-people contacts, Shri Vijay argued that Li Keqiang’s visit to India in the year 2013 showed China’s focus on India. He urged to address the trade imbalance issue. He also noted that India and China have cooperated on the international front on G-20, BRICS and climate change. He said that friendly cooperation between India and China is key for regional stability. He argued that the key task for India and China is to develop their economies and eradicate poverty. Therefore, the Honourable MP recommended that confrontation should be replaced with cooperation and more media and youth exchanges should be considered. He said that India and China should increase mutual awareness of each other and India, in particular should understand China more. He raised the slogan ‘Go China, Learn Chinese’ for increasing getting information from China rather than Western media sources.

    Session 1: India-China Relations: Historic Perspectives

    Chair: Amb. R.S. Kalha
    Speakers: Prof. Sujit Dutta, Prof. Madhu Bhalla, Prof. Shen Dingli

    Prof. Dutta pointed out that though principles had a place in laying out a roadmap they had to be shaped by the dynamics of politics such as domestic and external factors. Three factors needed to be stressed in this context, namely, the nature of global politics, domestic politics and the role of ideology in bilateral relations, especially in the case of India and China.

    There was an improvement in India-China relations after the death of Stalin, with the two countries willing to resolve the issue of Tibet. This led to the enunciation of the five principles and the agreement in 1954 with Tibet, which led India to have a new position on Tibet in order to build new ties with China. India figured that it would stabilise the bilateral relations. Though the five principles gave importance to the political requirements of safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-aggression in a deeply ideologically torn world, the significant part of Panchsheel was peaceful coexistence. But conflict over the definition of peaceful coexistence led to conflict. Countries reacted positively to the post-Stalin definition of peaceful coexistence, followed by the successful visit of Soviet leaders to India. Peaceful coexistence became popular in the security-political context as Pakistan was in talks with the US for a defence agreement and had joined SEATO. The positive environment quickly decayed as the global and domestic political situation worsened. India-China relations were caught up in the worsening Sino-soviet relations.

    Currently, the global conditions had changed and this had led to an improvement in India-China relations from being one-dimensional to multi-dimensional. There were many positive aspects in the relationship now because the conditions were different. However, to be relevant the principles of Panchsheel needed to be redefined in the prevailing context. Globalisation had redefined sovereignty, therefore there was a need for new institutions and global cooperation to look at the challenges posed by globalisation. Globalisation had also influenced domestic affairs and mutual gain was shaped by the nature of interdependence though it might not lead to mutual gains.

    The principle of mutual non-aggression for peaceful settlement of contending issues and peaceful coexistence had become important in India-China relations. But the relationship was getting affected due to the worsening Japan-China and China-US relations, which was deeply worrying. Interdependence that focused only on economic affairs was not a security guarantee: the dynamics between China and the US were an example.

    Prof. Shen Dingli in his turn opined that the five principles were not new but were present in the UN charter. Britain was a coloniser even when international law outlawed non-aggression. The five principles were part of the soft power of India, China and Myanmar. Responding to the points made by Prof. Dutta, Prof. Shen Dingli pointed out that China had indeed changed according to the new situation, by moves such as joining global institutions. In this scenario, even if countries had trade disputes with China, it was possible to resolve the issue at WTO and China was willing to subject its trade and investment sovereignty to a third party. China’s stance on the dispute regarding rare earth minerals was an example. China and other countries were willy-nilly making concessions in the new conditions. Other than this, there was no need to redefine the five principles.

    China and India agreed on several international issues such as the wars in Iraq and Syria and the situation in Iran and Libya, underscoring respect for the five principles. This was because both countries were opposed to western-oriented power politics. India had consistently supported the legitimacy of the PRC even after the 1962 war, thus honouring the five principles. China had also applied the principles regarding sovereignty to international scenarios such as Vietnam, Philippines and Japan. In the case of Japan, that country did not have sovereignty over Senkaku, therefore China offered to discuss the dispute and eventually peacefully resolve the issue.

    Despite their soft power, India and China were not always successful in resolving conflicts peacefully. The two countries needed to learn a lot from the past not to repeat mistakes. The two countries had made efforts to make the line of actual control tranquil and to sign border agreements, which was a smart policy move in terms of honouring the five principles. This could in turn be applied to the China-Japan dispute regarding the Diaoyu Island. India, China and Japan could also play an important role in Asia.

    Prof. Madhu Bhalla, the next speaker, started with a question what was Panchsheel meant to do for India and China. The principles had served China better than India. There were two different readings of Panchsheel, two different senses of its functionality and different ideational values in the two countries’ foreign policies. At the functional level, Panchsheel did not work for India: the Tibet question was solved for China; but the issue of a peaceful border was not solved for India.

    Panchsheel was supposed to be an antithesis for the traditional balance-of-power doctrine and competitive security. However, India and China had competitive security issues on the borders and these fell within the balance-of-power politics. Therefore, Panchsheel was an embarrassment and a failure for the Indian state. The claim for Panchsheel became ambitious later as it was considered as a way to have cooperative security and improve economic cooperation at the bilateral, regional and global levels. Panchsheel was actually a code of behaviour, but the rhetoric of value blurred the distinction between interests and values. Therefore, there was criticism that both countries had not defined the areas of cooperation.

    Mao Zedong saw Panchsheel as a tool to solve the Tibet issue. Therefore, clarity about Panchsheel was more evident in the Chinese behaviour. The 18th border talks between India and China attested to the fact that the border issue was not resolving. Panchsheel was originally meant as a guide for bilateral relations, not for guiding foreign policy globally. The rhetoric about Panchsheel was devoid of meaning for India. If Panchsheel was to have a future in India-China relations, it had to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny against the demands of Indian foreign policy in the bilateral and global contexts.

    The speakers in the first session addressed several questions and comments. Amb. R.S. Kalha pointed out that Panchsheel principles were found in the preamble in a trade agreement and questioned whether India and China had to find alternative principles as the trade agreement expired in eight years. Questions were asked of Prof. Shen regarding Xi Jinping’s reiteration of the five principles and whether it was a nuanced position and China’s policy in joint development in areas of disputed sovereignty. Prof. Shen responded that China adopted the five principles not to solve the Tibet issue only but to make countries stronger against the Western powers. This would lead to moral leadership, leading other states to agree with India and China’s reading of the UN charter leading to both functional and ideational purposes. Panchsheel was primarily used for settling disputes in a peaceful way and avoid using adversarial ways. It would take China some time to offer concessions on the border because it would take a long time to change the mindset.

    Amb. Zhou Gang asserted that India and China should have a strategic will on the importance of peaceful principles in international relations because these had built a solid foundation for improving their bilateral relations and for resolving bilateral disputes. These principles had been accepted in the UN by both developed and developing countries. Dr. Arvind Gupta questioned why India could not take advantage of the five principles; whether it was a deliberate policy or India was unable to do so. Prof. Bhalla responded that in India there was disappointment because of the failure in India-China relations. The reason why India did not take Panchsheel more seriously was that India did not perceive it to have a broader role than in India-China relations.

    Prof. Dutta pointed out that the use of the term Panchsheel was affected in a negative way because of the 1962 war. However, the general principles of Panchsheel were already relevant in the Indian foreign policy, as was evident in Nehru’s policy regarding the Cold War. Peaceful coexistence was important for India even before the Panchsheel agreement. India and China had similar concerns about sovereignty, with India, even though it was a democracy, being more circumspect about sovereignty than China.

    Session II: India-China Cooperation in the Global Context

    Chair: Amb. Nalin Surie
    Speakers: Amb. (retd) Zhou Gang, Mr. Jayadeva Ranade, Prof. Deng Junbing, Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli

    Amb. (retd) Zhou Gang said that ever since their first enunciation, the five principles had played a core role in shaping India-China relations. Leadership meetings, close contacts on global issues, exploring new areas of cooperation, people-to-people relations and expansion of military cooperation were some of the aspects of India-China friendship. Earlier, fewer leadership meetings, lack of political understanding and strategic trust had restrained the relationship between the two countries. Lack of resolution of the boundary dispute and the activities of the Dalai Lama and his group created a trust deficit in this relationship.

    The primary task for India and China was to vigorously accelerate economic development and improve people’s lives. Economic reforms in both countries had led to great achievements. Both could learn from each other and create a win-win situation. Respecting each other’s core interests and properly handling the disputes would help the relations in the future. The recent consensus between the leadership of the two countries on cooperation was a good sign for the future. China and India shared a common interest in global multi-polarisation and diversification of order, besides climate debate and global commons. Close cooperation also would help increase the influence of emerging countries in the international order.

    Mr. Jayadeva Ranade, who spoke next, pointed out that Panchsheel emerged out of the idea that peace and cooperation between India and China was important for their domestic development and as an alternative ideology for newly independent countries. The centrality of India and China for Panchsheel was that after their war in 1962, Panchsheel was ignored in the global order. The 1993, 1996 and 2005 agreements and the recent BDCA (Border Defence Cooperation Agreement) were at the core for the future of India-China relations.

    From India’s point of view, the issues that derailed India-China relations were China’s claims on Arunachal and its military and nuclear help to Pakistan. From the Chinese view, the presence of the Dalai Lama in India was an irritant. Strong personalities of the top leaders in India and China could give a momentum to the bilateral relations. The recent Indian election was monitored closely by the Chinese media, which expressed positive expectations about the future. Cooperation on food security, water security and clean energy could deepen India-China relations and help them solve shared and common problems. Damming of the Brahmaputra by China added to India’s challenges vis-à-vis its relations with China.

    Prof. Deng Junbing, the third speaker, noted that India was the first non-socialist country to have recognised the People’s Republic of China. The vitality of Panchsheel was in the fact that China and India had overcome the distrust created by the 1962 conflict and the Indian nuclear tests of 1998. The principles of Panchsheel had been important guiding principles of the Chinese foreign policy.

    The current international situation was experiencing profound challenges. Efforts for creating peace without war, development without poverty and cooperation without confrontation would help build a shared harmonious world. The five principles could be part of the process of attaining these objectives. Hegemony, power politics and new interventionism were on the rise. The UN Charter could be used to promote new concepts of security. The five principles were useful for this purpose. China and India could work jointly for democratisation of the international order.

    Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, the fourth speaker, saw India-China global cooperation in terms of a mix of competition and cooperation. The two countries coordinated on UN discussions on security and interference although there was a slight difference of opinion between them. They also cooperated on terrorism as their definitions of this phenomenon were similar, even though there was some dichotomy. There was no substantial counterterrorism cooperation as yet. China tended to take a lenient view of some of the Jamat groups. The recent terrorist attacks in China could alter this position.

    UNSC reforms were another important area. China welcomed a greater role for India in international affairs but did not support its UNSC permanent seat candidature directly. There was also cooperation in multilateral organisations. However, India had not been able to expand its role in the SCO as yet and China was only an observer in SAARC. There was some form of cooperation in WTO and in BASIC. On energy issues, there was a mixed picture of competition and cooperation. Third-country cooperation on investments had not materialised as yet. There was also serious disagreement on maritime, space and cyber issue areas.

    In the ensuing discussion, it was pointed out that UNSC reforms were important because UNSC was the most universal body in world politics. Chinese support for India’s UNSC seat should not be seen as a benchmark for India-China cooperation. It was very difficult for China to support India’s UNSC candidature publicly. But there were ways in which the two countries could cooperate to strengthen the global system in coordination with likeminded countries. India-China relations did not have to be looked at in terms of media hype. Common interests needed to guide their cooperation.

    On energy security, the two sides needed to take a broader view. They could take a shared look at the global energy order. UNCLOS also could be discussed. The two countries could coordinate against energy cartels that had a grip on pricing, but competition overtook cooperative tendencies.

    On maritime issues, India supported freedom of navigation, demilitarisation and dispute settlement using multilateral frameworks. Indian scholars pointed out that China had taken inconsistent positions based on UNCLOS in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea. The Chinese participants noted on the other hand that the Chinese position was based on the narrowness of the Yellow Sea. The differential interpretation was not deliberate. China would not militarise its EEZ in the South China Sea: it was not entitled to such privileges. The Indian participants in their turn pointed out that if ADIZ were to be extended to the South China Sea then even commercial ships might be subjected to scrutiny.

    Session III: India- China relations in regional peace and stability

    Chair: Prof. Shen Dingli
    Speakers: Prof. Chen Jidong, Prof Ye Hailin, Dr. Jagannath Panda

    Prof. Chen Jidong elaborated on how discourses on Sino-Indian relations are viewed from the prism of competition rather than cooperation. The world was big enough for both China and India and they did not need to always clash. In recent years, India-China cooperation had increased in the realm of economics. The BCIM corridor held great significance, not only bilaterally, but also regionally and globally as it would lead to economic prosperity in all four countries. India having a developed service sector and China having a developed manufacturing sector was like killing two birds with one stone. Both countries needed to deepen cooperation as BCIM would not only lead to regional integration and connectivity but also regional prosperity. The Kunming Initiative had been 14 years in the making and had passed through many hurdles. From being a Track II initiative, it had slowly graduated to a Track I initiative in 2011. BCIM was located at the periphery of these countries and it would lead to the development of the border regions, which had hitherto been neglected. The five principles of the Panchsheel Agreement were a precondition to the construction of BCIM and the participant countries needed to cooperate to further this project.

    Prof. Ye Hailin echoed the sentiments of Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister who had recently visited India and had called India a “strategic and cooperative partner of China”. Asia was becoming increasingly nuclearized and countries needed to be extremely careful not to escalate tensions. Both India and China had a moral responsibility to secure the Asian community. Both were part of CICA, which sought to enhance cooperation between countries to build a stable and peaceful environment. Three main regional issues would shape India-China relations in the future, namely, regional integrity, cross-border regional development and maritime security.

    Both India and China believed in regional institutions being sacrosanct. The fact that China was an observer state at SAARC and India was a part of ASEAN+6 would allow both states to share ideas and forge a common security concept. Regional linkages such as BCIM and the Silk Road economic belt were also important for fostering cooperation.

    There was a lot of noise about China being a threat because of the Nine-dash line. However, it was important to note that Vietnam and Philippians too had demarcated huge territories claiming ownership on them. Confidence-building measures were important in managing the problem. For China, its Maritime Silk Road project was important for boosting maritime connectivity.

    India and China were facing similar challenges and needed to cooperate to tackle them. China needed India’s help in tackling security challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan as growing extremism in both countries was a major challenge. Myanmar was another example where India and China could work together. There was a lot of room for trilateral dialogue to find answers to key security challenges both countries faced. Prof. Ye Hailin also tried to clear the air on various issues such as String of Pearls, Chinese funding of Gwadar Port and the China threat theory.

    Dr. Jagannath Panda in his turn noted that the contributions of Panchsheel were universal, as its values were replicated in the charter of UN, SCO, ASEAN and SAARC. There were two sides to Panchsheel: one was the emotional and ideological aspect and the other was the practical aspect. The realities of today were very different from the ones faced by leaders such as Nehru and Zhou Enlai. Both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, towering leaders in their own right, faced a completely different set of challenges. The 1962 war was not about the question of sovereignty but about lack of respect for each other’s territorial integrity. The lingering boundary issue was not about technicalities but was about highly politicised sentiments of nationalism. As regards non-aggression, the real aggression took place not in actions but in perceptions. There was a great deal of hostility, distrust and suspicion on both sides, which had been played up by the media. This issue needed to be tackled at the highest levels. As regards the third principle, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, both China and India had interfered in the other’s internal issues at some point in history.

    China was undergoing a slow democratisation process and the reforms that were underway were a result of this process. Both nations defined democracy very differently and this issue needed to be brought to the table in solving the issues of the boundary and Tibet.

    As regards the fourth principle of Panchsheel, which is that of equality and mutual benefit, both India and China, other than being the third- and second-largest economies of the world, were vast territorially. They could not mutually benefit and integrate regionally if they did not give space to each other. India needed to give space to China in the Indian Ocean and China to India in the South China Sea.

    Regarding the principle of peaceful coexistence, there was a duality in the Chinese position. On the one hand, it talked about creating a new type of major power relation and saw itself as equal to the US, while also talking about being a developing country and still having a lot of catching up to do. India needed to ask China to clarify whether it viewed this world as multipolar or bipolar.

    With the session ending, S.D. Muni questioned the panel as to the reasons for the slow pace of BCIM and why China fished in troubled waters whenever India faced bilateral tensions with its neighbours. R.N. Das questioned the panel on stapled visas being issued in Arunachal. On the whole, the session was fruitful and yielded many important insights about the future scope of India-China relations.

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