The Dragon’s thunder and lightning across the border signifies nothing
By Mohan Das Menon | Published: 22nd July 2017 10:00 PM |
A greements in foreign policy often have a gestation period before the covert becomes overt and ramifications start unravelling. When India signed the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India on April 29, 1954—later known as the Panchsheel Agreement—the then Indian Ambassador in China, N Raghavan, had stated: “We have gone fully through the question that existed between our two countries in the Tibet region.” Then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, the master craftsman of it all, came out gleefully saying: “Questions which were ripe for settlement have been resolved”.
But India-based expert on China, Claude Arpi, on the basis of his extensive research on the subject, added a new dimension to that narrative in his book Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement: the Sacrifice of Tibet (2004). According to him, the then foreign secretary Subimal Dutt was not too pleased with the agreement. He added that “another distinguished Indian diplomat of those times, based in Delhi, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, even before the aforementioned Beijing Conference, had strongly advised that India should force Beijing to recognise the traditional boundary between India and Tibet as the only way to resolve all the outstanding issues between India, Tibet and China.”
The negative reactions to the signing of the Panchsheel Agreement indicate that there was no unanimity in Delhi over its immediate consequence—the virtual disappearance of the Tibetan ‘buffer zone’, between the two big neighbours, India and China. Significantly, in the recent Sino-Indian stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction, Beijing has yet again been quick off the starting blocks in its public criticism against Delhi. It claims: “India was going against the spirit of the Panchsheel Agreement.” This is not the first time Beijing has exploited an agreement recognised over decades, more for its overriding fault lines where abiding interests of India and Tibetan people are concerned. The agreement of 1954 vintage has also nothing credible in its interns that could inherently or autonomously mitigate the intermediate terrain of outstanding disagreements between two of Asia’s largest countries.
Notwithstanding its fondness for retracing historical memory to bolster its case, Beijing disdainfully overlooks the contents of another major agreement India signed with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in New Delhi in November 1996, which stipulated ‘maintenance of peace and tranquillity at the border’ with a mechanism duly crafted by the two sides for operationalising the call for amity and peace between China and India. A question naturally falls into place as to why is Beijing repeatedly quoting a 1954 agreement signed in the Chinese capital to deal with Doklam trijunction stand-off, while bypassing the equally historic November 1996 agreement between India and China.
In India’s Foreign Policy Since Independence, V P Dutt, former Rajya Sabha member and a renowned expert on China, highlights: “It was also significant that President Jiang, while visiting Pakistan after his 1996 India visit publicly advised the Pakistani leadership that if certain issues could not be resolved for the time being, they could be shelved temporarily so that they stand not to affect normal state to state relations.”
As the reference unmistakably was to the Kashmir issue, does it not perplex apex mentoring authorities at the Raisina Hill and operational think tanks in the South Block that nearly 21 years after Jiang’s visit to Delhi, China is volunteering to play the mediator to resolve an increasingly vexatious problem, which Beijing may itself have complicated by notches over the decades? Beijing’s range of strategic interests, defying any rational measure, alongside those of its closest all-weather ally Pakistan, have over the time, undeniably ruffled feathers in the region.
One must grant it to the presiding mandarins of Beijing that they mastered their statecraft and diplomacy with diligence, finesse and rare élan. Their ‘offer’ to resolve Kashmir issue must have been put on record only after due research of options and alternatives. Is the offer tantamount to China admitting that its own strategic future is somewhat linked to sustainable peace across the Indo-Pak border space? Logically, China has to make a choice between focusing on its vast South China Sea’s zone of interests and a military offensive along the Sino-India border.
The growing operational synergy between the US, Indian and Japanese navies in and around South China Sea, exemplified in the recent Malabar Exercise, is worrisome to Beijing and its closest of allies, North Korea and Pakistan. Considering that Chinese stakes are much higher in the South China maritime zone, the logic of a surprise offer to Delhi seems maintainable. Incrementally, Chinese worries over possible recrudescence of Islamic violence in Xinjiang on one side, and the future of CPEC pathway on the other, could substantively constitute another valid ground.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat