Contrary to popular belief, the archival record shows that the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, or Panchsheel, were formulated by China, not India. Their roots lie in Chinese foreign policy, not Indian philosophy. At the end of the Korean War, the US embarked on a new policy of “containing” Communism in Asia through military pacts, while pressing its French ally to continue the Vietnam war. It was in this context that China advanced the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. It sought, thereby, to effect an image makeover; to drive a wedge between the US and its allies in the Indochina question; to dissuade its neighbours from joining US-led pacts; and to prevent a possible US-inspired economic boycott. Because of the induction of Pakistan in US-led pacts, an area of convergence arose between Indian and Chinese security interests. There followed a spectacular, if brief, moment of India-China cooperation in promoting Panchsheel to protect the ’zone of peace’ in Asia. India also saw some advantage in Panchsheel in the context of the border issue but had no unrealistic expectations in this regard. With the outbreak of major border clashes in 1958, and unrest in Tibet, Panchsheel disappeared from the India-China lexicon, making a reappearance only in 1988, when the two countries agreed to put aside the border issue while seeking closer ties in other areas. Meanwhile, the dramatic shifts in Chinese foreign policy during the Cold War were accompanied by successive re-interpretations of the Five Principles. Differing interpretations of “peaceful coexistence” lay at the heart of the Sino-Soviet rift. With the breakthrough in Sino-US relations, the Five Principles appeared in a new incarnation in the Shanghai Communique. Originally aimed at the US, the principles were now invoked to chart a course of normalization of Sino-US relations. China has regularly proposed sets of “principles” to guide bilateral and multilateral negotiations in diverse fields. We need a clearer understanding of this diplomatic tool.
About the Speaker
Chandrashekhar Dasgupta is a retired IFS officer, who has served as ambassador to China. He is currently a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change and also a member of the Geneva-based UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A student of India’s diplomatic history, he is the author of War and Diplomacy in Kashmir 1947-48.
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