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Revitalising Panchsheel

July 20, 2004

As co-originators of the Panchsheel, it is the internationalist duty of China and India to march forward, revitalise their friendly relationship, and project the Five Principles for the peace, progress, and stability of the world.

IT WAS Premier Zhou En-Lai who put forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence for the first time while opening the bilateral talks between China and India on the relations between the two countries over the Tibet region of China. Later when the formal negotiations started, Chang Han Fu, leader of the Chinese delegation, reiterated these Principles as guidelines for the solution of outstanding problems between the two countries. The leader of the Indian delegation welcomed the Five Principles saying that though India had not formulated these principles as the Chinese side had done, she had been following them as the basis of her foreign policy since she attained Independence. He suggested, at the concluding session of the talks, that the Principles should be incorporated in the preamble of the agreement on Trade and Intercourse between India and the Tibet region. It was thus that "Panchsheel" appeared in a document on international relations for the first time on April 29, 1954.

Prime Minister Nehru of India welcomed Panchsheel with open arms, pointing out in Parliament that it was an ancient phrase in India that the Lord Budha had used in the moral context. He added that the phrase was adopted by the Indonesian Government and that when he heard it in Indonesia it struck him as a happy phrase, which he thought was of great importance to the world today. In China the idea of the Five Principles can be traced back to ancient times. The great Chinese philosopher, Confucius, spoke of harmony in the midst of differences and outlined certain ethical principles of human conduct. Thus it might be said that the Five Principles arose from the civilisational matrix of Asia and, in its modern form (as stated in the 1954 Agreement between China and India), was a new and creative contribution to the theory and practice of international relations from the ancient continent of Asia. The ancient idea of Panchsheel was reborn in Beijing in the modern form. It is, I believe, of continuing relevance to the vastly changed and changing world of today and tomorrow.

It is important to recall today the context in which the Five Principles were promulgated. After the victory of the Chinese Revolution, the first plenary session of the Chinese Peoples' Consultative Conference adopted a Common Programme that contained most of the core principles of Panchsheel on the basis of which new China proposed to conduct its relations with the nations of the world. The immediate context was that of regulating relations between India and China. There was also the wider context of relations with countries of Asia, Europe, and the world. The relationship between the new Asia and the old colonial powers of Europe and the West was at the time occupying the minds of world statesmen at the Geneva Conference on Indo-China. It was in June 1954 during the course of the Geneva Conference that Prime Minister Nehru invited Zhou En-Lai to visit India.

That visit turned out to be an important event at a critical moment in the history of Asia. As a young man, I had the good fortune to witness the tremendous mass reception that Zhou En-Lai received in India. Wherever he went there were hundreds and thousands of people greeting the Chinese Premier with the slogan "Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai." Extensive discussions took place between the two Prime Ministers on how peace could be established in Asia, especially South East Asia, and how the area of peace there could be extended to the rest of the world.

They came to the conclusion that it was not through military pacts and alliances, which divided the nations in a bitter cold war, but through the Five Principles or Panchsheel (recently signed between China and India) that a system of collective security or collective peace, as Nehru preferred to call it, could be established in Asia. They visualised Panchsheel agreements of this type between China and Burma, Burma and India, China and Indonesia, then Indonesia and India and so on — and between as many countries as possible in Asia and the rest of the world. The Panchsheel idea caught the imagination of people in Asia and the world at a time the great powers and the developed world were pursuing the Cold War and a bitter ideological conflict.

The Five Principles came to be accepted almost universally by countries and finally by the United Nations Organisation. In a series of active and independent international moves, Premier Zhou En-Lai and Prime Minister Nehru visited countries in Asia, Africa and Europe and signed with most of them agreements embodying the Five Principles. The Asian-African conference held in Bandung accepted the Five Principles, expatiating them into the Ten Principles of Bandung. The Conference of Non-aligned nations in Belgrade accepted them as the core principles behind the non-aligned movement.

Panchsheel became the presiding principle of the Asian-African movement for equality and freedom against the prevailing colonial and imperialist domination of the world. The United Nations accepted the Five Principles as a code of conduct in international relations, with Dag Hammarskjold describing them as a reaffirmation of the obligations and the aims of the United Nations. On December 11, 1957, Yugoslavia, Sweden and India, moved a resolution in the United Nations containing the Five Principles; it was adopted unanimously.

Unfortunately today, even after the end of the Cold War, peace eludes the world and forces of hegemonic domination cast dark shadows over the world. In this new context, the Five Principles have become intensely relevant in the conduct of international relations. Respect for the sovereignty and integrity of nations, for non-interference in the internal affairs of nations, for non-aggression, for equality, and for peaceful coexistence has become the pillar on which a just and peaceful world order can be erected. We hear now new doctrines of internationalism, the end of sovereignty and indeed of the state itself being advanced by political theorists of the developed world. There is also the doctrine of a unipolar world in which one power or a group of powers with enormous economic and military power seeks to lord it over the rest of the world.

China and India believe in a multi-polar world where power is diffused over several centres in a world of infinite diversities and differences in terms of culture, language, religion, economic condition, and political persuasion. Unipolar and interventionist theories and practices are unsustainable and opposed to a democratic and pluralistic world order. Recognition of sovereignty, non-aggression and non-interference in the internal affairs of states and equality and mutual benefits and peaceful co-existence constitute the irreducible minimum on which a viable world order is based.

Globalisation should not become the worldwide manifestation of the highest and subtlest form of capitalism but as Mahatma Gandhi envisaged "a federation of friendly, interdependent nations" where no one dominates or exploits another. The appropriate code of conduct for a globalised world would be the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence and not the overlordship of one super power or group of nations. The United Nations should be at the core of this world order. Any intervention for the sake of human rights or democracy should be by the United Nations or by the express approval of the United Nations. For this purpose, we believe the United Nations should be reformed and the U.N. Security Council expanded and made more representative of humanity as a whole, including representation on it of the great and populous and democratic developing countries of the world.

I believe that China and India as the co-authors of the Five Principles can work together to bring about such a democratic transformation of the world body to serve the interests and aspirations of humankind. In this context, let me quote what the great Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said in December 1988: "In recent years there has been comment about the next century being the Asia Pacific century. I do not agree with this viewpoint. Even if the Far Eastern region of the Soviet Union and the Western part of the United States and Canada are included, the population still comes to only about 300 million whereas the combined population of two countries [China and India] is 1.8 billion. If China and India fail to develop, it cannot be called an Asian Century." Deng's words ring truer today when the combined population of China and India is over two billion, making up two-fifths of humanity.

Thanks to the economic reforms launched by Deng and vigorously pursued by successive leaders, China is today dazzling the world with its economic progress. India too has broken out of its slow growth syndrome and become a moving, changing, progressive economy. At this new stage of development, there is much that India and China can exchange with each other — and do to co-operate with each other.

Such cooperation, also bringing in other fast-developing countries of the region, will usher in the true Asian Century that Deng Xiaoping visualised. With China and India, the new century will be moving steadily towards the Asian destiny — not a destiny isolated from the rest of the world but as part and parcel of the destiny of the world. In the new century, co-operation between the two largest countries of Asia and the world is a historic necessity.

As co-originators of the Panchsheel, it is our internationalist duty to march forward, revitalise our friendly relationship, and project the Five Principles for the peace, progress, and stability of the world. One of the major issues today is defending the pluralistic world order where nations can evolve, grow and prosper according to their own genius. Jawaharlal Nehru observed in the 1950s that "it should be open to each country to develop in its own way, learning from others and not imposed by them. Essentially this calls for a new mental approach. The Panchsheel and the Five Principles offer that approach." Today we have to generate that mental approach which Panchsheel put forth so refreshingly during the 1950s, the golden years of Sino-Indian relations. We have to work together to make the Five Principles, in the words of Premier Zhou En-Lai, "shine over the whole world" — for our mutual benefit and for peace, friendship and co-operation among nations.

(This is based on former President K.R. Narayanan's keynote address at a seminar organised in June 2004 in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of Panchsheel.)

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