ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Brief History of Panchsheel

Contrary to popular belief, Panchsheel did not draw its inspiration from Indian philosophy, nor did it reflect lack of political realism on the part of Jawaharlal Nehru. Panchsheel was promoted by China and India as an instrument for advancing their respective national interests in the mid-1950s. China, the originator of the five principles, sought to reassure neighbours who had developed misgivings about it during the Korean War, and to wean them away from the United States. India viewed Panchsheel as providing some degree of reassurance in the context of the border dispute with China, as well as a means of countering US moves to create new military alliances in Asia. In a final twist of irony, the five principles found a place in the Shanghai Communique (1972), normalising Sino-US relations.

The origins and rationale of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, better known in India as Panchsheel, deserve to be rescued from the realms of speculation and mythology. It is frequently asserted in public discourse in India that Jawaharlal Nehru was the author of the five principles; that Panchsheel drew its inspiration from ancient Indian or, more specifically, Buddhist philosophy; and that they reflected Nehru’s alleged naiveté and lack of political realism. None of these beliefs stands up to an examination of the historical record.

The five principles made their first appearance in the preamble of the 1954 India–China agreement on trade and cultural ties with Tibet. There are contrasting versions of its paternity. An official history of China’s diplomacy gives the credit to Premier Zhou Enlai and states that it was “at his meeting with an Indian delegation [on 31 December 1954] that Premier Zhou proposed for the first time the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” (Han 1990: 102).

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