Event ReportsPublished on Jan 28, 2015
In a first of the kind, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata organised an inter-university debate competition on 'Panchsheel and its Relevance' on January 17 to commemorate completion of 60 years of signing the agreement.
Will Panchsheel be key to India-China relations?

In a first of the kind, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata organised an inter-university debate competition on ’Panchsheel and its Relevance’ on January 17 to commemorate completion of 60 years of signing the agreement. Fourteen debaters representing seven universities from West Bengal and the North East participated in the debate.

The motion was, ’Unlike in the past, Panchsheel will be the key to India-China relations in the 21st century’. Speaking for the motion, Soham Das of the Jadavpur University and Monica Lakandri of the Sikkim University were chosen as the winner and runner-up. Biplove Kumar of the Sikkim University and Nirjhar Mukherjee of the Jadavpur University won the first and second position for speaking against the motion.

The winners and runners-up were selected by an external panel of judges, consisting of Mr. Chandrasekhar Bhattacharjee, senior journalist, Dr. Anindya Jyoti Majumdar, Professor, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University and Ms. Sreeparna Dasgupta of the Department of Political Science, Loreto College.

The winners and runners-up were awarded internship at ORF Kolkata. A mutually convenient time will be offered to the winners for the internship.

The event started with an inaugural address by Prof. Hari Vasudevan, Director of China Centre, Calcutta University. He attempted to provide an optimistic outlook on Panchsheel. He said the present century has witnessed ’good relations’ between India and China. He suggested adaptation of the five principles of Panchsheel to suit the imperatives of the present times and circumstances. He felt it was possible to refurbish the concept to address the current developmental concerns, border disputes as well as challenges posed by climate change and security issues

Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji, Advisor, ORF Kolkata, introduced the theme of the debate, ORF’s vision in organising the debate and also acquainted the audience with the rules and evaluation system. In introducing the theme, Prof. Chatterji particularly emphasised the importance of eliciting opinions and thoughts of the youths on the past and the future of Panchsheel.

Several salient points were raised by the debaters. Speaking against the motion, Biplove Kumar of Sikkim University was of the view that peaceful coexistence has been replaced by armed coexistence in present times. Nirjhar Mukherjee of Jadavpur University taking the same position felt that China has been benefitting more than India from the mandate of the principles and called for re-evaluation of Panchsheel. Border dispute was a recurring point put forward by those speaking against the motion with Tibet-Arunachal Pradesh trade-off being the focal argument. In fact, Shomia Biswas of Visva- Bharati University pointed out that those top level visits of these two countries have been often preceded by border incidents. Tulika from IIT, Guwahati raised the issues of Line of Actual Control, water-sharing and arm smuggling in support of her position against the motion.

From those speaking for the motion, Bimal Saha of Kalyani University saw in Panchsheel the potential of being the converging point of the myriad outstanding issues between the two countries. Shrimanti Ghoshal of University of Calcutta took the tranquilised borders and an overall peaceful relation between India and China as reference points for strengthening her arguments in favour of the motion. Sutanuka Preetam of Viva-Bharati University, taking the same position, suggested that the two countries must set out a common agenda, identify new avenues of partnership and make attempts to revive the past glory of the pristine principles.

The debate was followed by a discussion by the members of the panel of judges -- Mr. Chandrasekhar Bhattacharjee, Dr. Anindya Jyoti Majumdar and Ms. Sreeparna Dasgupta. Mr. Bhattacharjee drew attention to the difference between a treaty and an agreement. He felt that the present salience of the five principles of Panchsheel should be seen in conjunction with the ten principles upheld at Bandung Conference. He identified among others, business as the key to resolving many bottle-necks between India and a business minded China.

Ms. Dasgupta admitted that the 1962 border conflict not just indicated breach of the Panchsheel agreement but also failure of the then Indian foreign policy. However, she reasoned that no treaty or agreement can prevent war or guarantee ever-lasting peace. However, by no means this means that Panchsheel was an immature move by Nehru. It was rather a pragmatic move by him to keep any possibility of armed confrontation with China at bay, concluded Ms. Dasgupta.

Dr. Majumdar began by analysing the very definition of coexistence: the right of the other party to exist. Panchsheel, according to him, was an experiment to institute non-military defence mechanism premised on power of ideas rather than that of force, in dealing with a neighbour. He further pointed out that the principle of territorial integrity was mutually agreed upon while there was disagreement over each other’s territorial demarcations. Therefore, Panchsheel needs to be revisited in the present context by the two ’frenemies’ .

Summing up the panel discussion, Dr. Tansen Sen of the Baruch College, City University of New York, reminded that the genesis of Panchsheel may be extended backward, going before 1954, even before India gained independence. Its roots lie in Nehru’s attempt to shape a decolonised world and promote Pan-Asian ideology: a coming together of peoples and societies of Asia. The ’Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai’ phase was disrupted by fissures produced by China’s distrust of India eyeing Tibet as China sensed that with withdrawal of Britain, India may continue the British colonialist posturing over Tibet. In this regard, Panchsheel was form of a façade to maintain workable relations post withdrawal of Britain. He said while coexistence has been worked out through years, without resolution of border dispute and Tibet issues, peaceful coexistence will remain out of sight.

(This report is prepared by Swagata Saha, Research Assistant, along with Garima Sarkar, Natasha Sharma and Priyanka Dey, Research Interns, Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata)

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