Beginning today, I am planning to write a series of posts on relations between India and China. I mainly intend to summarise facts and opinions which are being talked about, rather than formulate my own opinions. My sources are mostly going to be newspaper articles and so on, and also government information, whenever possible. In this post, I am going to start from the early years of our foreign relations. I apologise in advance if the series of posts are not historically continuous in spite of my best efforts.
Part I: Before the War
Most conventional knowledge of Indo-China relations before the 1962 war basically rests on the assumption that the two countries were great friends. I for one, was taught how we welcomed the newly communist China into the international arena, and pushed for its acceptance in the global community. Then we signed the Panchsheel agreement, and “Hindi – Chini bhai bhai” became the catch-phrase for discussing our relations. Then we gave refuge to the Dalai Lama, and the Chinese got angry, and decided to invade us, thereby stabbing us in the back.
Recent documents challenge this rosy understanding of our relations with China. According to a recent newspaper article, India’s ambassador to China in 1958 was told by Prime Minister Nehru not to trust the country despite the Panchsheel agreement. The Indian premier was extremely wary of the country and thought that Beijing had “deliberately chosen to be anti-Indian”. The newspaper article quotes from the Indian ambassador’s (G. Parthasarathi) diary:
“So, GP, when has the foreign office told you Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai? Don’t you believe it. I don’t trust the Chinese one bit, despite Panchsheel and all that. The Chinese are arrogant, devious, hypocritical and thoroughly unreliable.”
“They have deliberately chosen to be anti-India. Your brief from me, therefore, is to be extremely vigilant about all Chinese intentions, policies and actions towards us.”
These words make it amply clear that contrary to conventional understanding that India was caught napping when the Chinese attacked, the Indian leadership was apprehensive of China.
China also saw the Indian Prime Minister as ‘discourteous’. It was also wary of the world view expressed by Nehru in his book ‘Discovery of India’. China believed that Nehru’s book revealed his idea of a great Indian empire encompassing Malaysia, Ceylon among others.
The mutual distrust highlights how little effort was made to understand each other by the governments of the time.