Charu Sudan Kasturi
New Delhi, Oct. 18: Jawaharlal Nehru’s Panchsheel legacy may not have turned out the way he had hoped but six decades on, it will shape Manmohan Singh’s visit to China more than the border dispute that once pushed the neighbours to war.
The Prime Minister will land in Beijing on Tuesday evening to try and clinch a pact to enforce the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”, inked in 1954, better than ever before.
Singh’s scheduled visit carries a distinct flavour of Nehru’s historic visit to China that year. It will mark the first time in the 59 years since then that an Indian Prime Minister would be travelling to China for bilateral summit talks the same year a Chinese Premier has visited India.
As in 1954, maintaining peace along their long border to ensure India’s domestic economic growth, rather than any aggressive posturing, will define the Prime Minister’s talks with Chinese leaders, senior officials here indicated.
Singh will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday morning, when the two nations will sign a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement to minimise the risks of a repeat of the April border tensions in Ladakh, as The Telegraph had been the first to report on August 6.
The border pact that negotiators from India and China have finalised will increase the number of border patrol meetings between their forces, introduce a hotline between their directors-general of military operations, and put in place standard operating procedures to handle any misunderstandings along their 5,200km border.
The pact will allow Singh to showcase what some diplomats believe represents his most significant and lasting foreign policy achievement after the Indo-US nuclear deal. The agreement, essentially a mechanism to quickly resolve border tensions, will also help the UPA government counter perceptions of weakness in handling neighbours.
“The maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the border is the fundamental basis on which our bilateral relationship can grow,” foreign secretary Sujatha Singh said on Friday.
Officials said the border pact had been enabled by a “visible” desire on the part of the new Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping and Premier Li to work with India to resolve all bilateral disputes.
“None of us were around in diplomacy in 1954, but there’s a clear sense that it’s the spirit of that year that the Chinese want to focus on, and we have no reason to doubt those sentiments,” an official here said.
In 1954, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited India in May before Nehru travelled to Beijing and Shanghai in October.
The two nations inked the Panchsheel pact that year, committing themselves to mutual respect for their territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal issues, and non-aggression.
Mao Zedong, then chairman of the Communist Party of China, held talks with Nehru at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, discussing everything from US imperialism and Egyptian independence to the tense Korean peninsula.
That warmth in ties stayed intact a year later when Mao visited the Indian embassy in Beijing for a private dinner with Nehru’s cousin and Indian ambassador R.K. Nehru.
Accompanied by Chen Yun, one of the founders of China’s planned economy, Mao left only after watching the Bollywood film Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje with the Indian ambassador.
But the souring of relations after India gave shelter to the Dalai Lama in 1959, and the subsequent 1962 war, prevented any repeat of that bonhomie though the Panchsheel became a key doctrine of the Non Aligned Movement.
The two nations only restored ambassadorial ties in 1976 and Rajiv Gandhi’s famous handshake with Deng Xiaoping during his 1988 Beijing trip recast relations.
But Singh can expect unprecedented diplomatic outreach from China when he visits Beijing.
Li will host a banquet lunch on Wednesday for Singh before President Xi throws a dinner for him that night. No Chinese head of state has ever before hosted a dinner for a visiting Indian Prime Minister.
On Thursday morning, Singh will address the Communist Party’s central school for senior officials in Beijing, and then meet former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
The April border tensions will figure in the talks but only in the context of the pact the two nations will sign during the visit, officials said.
Singh will commit to Xi and Li that New Delhi welcomes greater Chinese investment, including special Chinese industrial zones in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the Indian foreign secretary said.
The two nations have decided to celebrate 2014 as a year of “friendship” to mark the 60 years of the Panchsheel agreement that India has often in the past accused China of violating in 1962.
“In India, we tend to harp on about the 1962 war,” an official said. “We’ve learned our lessons but right now, both nations are focused more on celebrating 60 years of the Panchsheel.”