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Rising Above Realpolitik?

Madhu Bhalla

Edited by C.V. Ranganathan
Samskriti and Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 391, Rs. 675.00


The last year has seen a unique Chinese diplomatic initiative: the high profile celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as they are known in China, or the Panchsheel as they are known in India. Beijing’s gala celebration of the anniversary last summer drew in luminaries as varied as former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, former UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, and the former Indian President, K.R. Narayanan. While the enthusiastic turnout was testimony to the distinctly troubled era into which the world has been thrust since the 1990s it was also testimony to China’s success in transforming the Five Principles from a limited set of guidelines for conducting bilateral policy into a set of principles for all times, and all nations. The Panchsheel has also been a significant landmark in the history of independent India’s foreign policy. As co-author of the Panchsheel, the 50th anniversary is an occasion for Indian policy makers and scholars to reflect on how well it has framed our relations with China or even with the rest of the world. More importantly, it is an occasion to reflect on the potential of the Panchsheel to provide indications for the future of these relations in the coming century. In the event, this book is a start in that process of reflection.   The Chinese have good reason to regard the Five Principles as eminently successful. When they were first announced in the agreement between India and China on trade with Tibet in 1954, they defined bilateral relations with India, limited in the aftermath of colonialism to interests in Tibet. Even though the differences over the border were evident by then the Panchsheel ensured that India would respect Chinese sovereignty in Tibet with no concomitant acceptance on the Chinese side of what had suddenly been transformed from the Tibet-India boundary to become the India-China boundary. Since then the Principles have been included by China in all agreements with developing countries. But their enduring value lies in that they have been included in two of the institutions where the Third World’s commitment to the idea of multilateralism and the equality of nations is strongest, the nonaligned movement and the United Nations. More immediately, however, their value lies in their ability to interpret and explain the Chinese view of the position of emerging powers in a world unhinged by ...

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