Panchsheel—the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence

Amb. R.S. KALHA Former Ambassador of India to Indonesia & Iraq
Recently China celebrated 60 years of the founding of the five principles of peaceful co-existence by inviting the Vice-President of India and the Myanmar President to China to join in the festivities along with top Chinese leaders. At the same time the Chinese Foreign Office sponsored think-tank, the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign affairs also invited delegations from India and Myanmar to participate in a seminar on the “Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence,” in which prominent former Chinese officials dealing with South Asia, some of Vice-Minister/Secretary rank, participated in the proceedings. Also present were eminent Chinese scholars, dealing with Asia. There is no doubt that the Chinese went to considerable length to organize such high-level activities. All the activities, including the speech of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, were extensively covered in the Chinese media, both print and visual.  
These principles were first enunciated by the then two Premiers of India and China; namely Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai. The Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence or Panchsheel, first formally appeared in the Preamble to the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India, which was signed on 29 April 1954. The Five Principles were: (a) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (b) mutual non-aggression; (c) mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (d) equality and mutual benefit; and (e) peaceful coexistence. Premier Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru further elaborated their vision of Panchsheel in a Joint Statement in June 1954, as a framework agreement for the conduct of relations not only between their respective countries, but also for the conduct of their relations with other countries.
The then leaders of India and China hoped that after the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence were enunciated that the newly independent countries, after decolonization and freed from colonial bondage after so many years, would be able to develop a new and a more widely acceptable approach to international relations. A little later these very same principles were emphasized by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a broadcast speech made at the time of the Asian Prime Ministers Conference at Colombo just a few days after the signing of the 1954 Sino-Indian Agreement relating to Trade and Intercourse between India and the Tibet region of China in Beijing. Nehru in his speech at Colombo emphasized that, “If these principles were recognized in the mutual relations of all countries, then indeed there would hardly be any conflict and certainly no war.” Subsequently these principles were incorporated and expanded into ten principles and formed the core of the Bandung Declaration of Afro-Asian nations issued in April 1955 at the historic Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
The 1954 India-China Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between India and the Tibet Region of China was essentially a trade agreement that had a life of 8 years. It was the first internationally negotiated agreement between an independent India and the People’s Republic of China that conceded that Tibet was an autonomous region of China and thus put paid to any aspirations that the Tibetans might have had for an independent existence. Nevertheless, Nehru was keen to bind China to some internationally accepted norms of behavior in the conduct of relations between nations. Nehru was aware that China had not yet been accepted as a member of the UN and could thus absolve itself from behavior that was expected of a UN member mandated to observe the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. It was Nehru’s belief, however illusory it may have proved, that the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence filled the gap that existed from China’s non-membership of the UN and that China would be bound to observe these principles in the conduct of relations with India in particular and with other countries in general. It was also Nehru’s belief that Sino-Indian differences, particularly on the boundary question, would be resolved peacefully without recourse to force and this was particularly an important issue for him since he sensed that India as the weaker military power, needed time to develop its defences on the Sino-Indian border in the wake of Chinese occupation of Tibet.
As soon as the Chinese People’s Republic was formed it was beset with political isolation and subjected to an economic blockade by the western powers soon after its military intervention in Korea. It also faced a host of diplomatic issues; including non-recognition and the possibility that Taiwan may never be reunited with the mainland. China was looking for a way out of its isolation and it found that expressing its adherence to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence was one way of lessening the hostility of other countries to it and for China to express its peaceful intentions. Therefore with Nehru’s assistance at the Bandung Conference, Premier Zhou was able to establish China’s peaceful intentions as well as gain the confidence of other Asia leaders and countries.
Is it a new doctrine in international relations?
The Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, when they were enunciated, were not new; for the UN Charter contains most of them. However these principles were put in a concise form and limited to the most important. This was because the countries concerned did not want elaborate declarations that might not be understood easily. The fact that they initially contained only five principles was because they represented the most important ones only, so that they could be easily understood most of all by the common man. In that way it was hoped they would be much easier to implement. Elaborate Declarations/Manifestoes, sometimes cause confusion and are thus difficult to implement.
It was during the Afro-Asia Conference at Bandung that the idea developed that newly liberated countries from the Afro-Asian World had something special to offer in terms of inter-state relations. It was also a demonstration that Afro-Asian countries need not follow western concepts of inter-state relations, but could evolve their own principles that were not only just but gave each newly independent country satisfaction that its hard won independence would not be threatened so easily again.
Despite several decades having elapsed even in today’s world these principles still retain their relevance. The five principles that India and China initiated many years ago along with Myanmar, can still be considered to be the basic norms that govern state-to-state relations. In Asia today we still can witness many territorial and other disputes, which are of a long standing duration. Many have been left over from colonial times. In this context the two principles of non-aggression and peaceful co-existence assume great importance. All disputes no matter how complicated and protracted can and should be settled peacefully, without the use of force. This is the very essence of these principles.
Another important point was that relations be conducted on the basis of equality. This is an important point for in colonial times most Afro-Asian countries were economically exploited by colonial countries and their economic resources plundered. For the first time the newly independent countries tried to arrange their economic relations in such a way that no country could use the old colonial tactic of economic exploitation. All such relations, in the future, were to be conducted on the basis of mutual benefit and equality. If these principles are applied even today; much of the exploitation that Third World countries suffer from would disappear. Therefore Third World countries have a continuing relevant stake that their present day economic relations be conducted taking into account the five principles. Thus the five principles of the peaceful have withstood the test of many vicissitudes and have become widely accepted as the basic norms of governance of international relations between various countries.