India under Modi must join hands with China to lead resurgent Asia
by Senaka Weeraratna on 24 Jul 2014 9 Comments

India’s praiseworthy role in giving voice to the newly liberated nations following de-colonization led to the Bandung Conference in 1955; now a new role awaits India under Narendra Modi, to blaze a new trail in Asia and the larger world and it is recommended, hand-in-hand with China. In 1954, a perceptive Indonesian Prime Minister Dr. Ali Sastroamidjojo, attending  the Colombo Conference hosted by the Government of Ceylon (then called) under Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, asked the following question - Where do we stand now, we the people of Asia, in this world of ours today?


The Bandung Conference was convened in 1955 to provide an answer to this question, and the leaders of Asia and Africa responded optimistically by supplying answers to that question. This question despite marked changes in geo-politics is still valid 60 years later, though in a re-formulated form as follows:


We, the people of Asia, where do we stand today in a world still largely controlled and manipulated by neo-colonial western powers who dominate the international mass media and dream of re-colonization and pillage of resources, if not directly or at least indirectly, by a series of manipulative acts using the rhetoric of Human Rights and Rule of Law, and international institutions e.g. agencies of the UN, as tools to do the spade work e.g. regime change, de-stabilization of countries asserting neutrality and independence from western dominance?


Bandung Conference


The Bandung Conference in April 1955 represented a watershed moment in international relations. It Conference symbolised the collapse of colonialism and was the most significant collective expression of the resurgence of Asia and Africa since the commencement of the process of de-colonization after the end of the Second World War and the emergence of independent nations outside Europe. These new nations were to become a new set of actors in the global arena and in turn they created the Non-aligned movement


Held at Bandung, Indonesia, from April 18 to 24, 1955, the Conference was sponsored by Burma (Myanmar), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia and Pakistan and  attended by 18 other countries from Asia (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Peoples Republic of China, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Vietnam, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen) and 6 from Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (Ghana), Liberia, Libya and Sudan). It was based on a common understanding that unless they work together as a collective force on the world stage their hard won freedom would be lost quickly to the very nations that had colonized them and grudgingly granted them independence but had not given up their dream of re-colonization.


Fears of Re-colonization


Two major incursions by France and Holland, after the defeat of Japan, to regain their colonial possessions by armed force, namely in Vietnam and Indonesia, sent alarming signals across the newly decolonised countries about the possible threats of re-colonisation.


a) Indonesia

On the night of December 19, 1948 Jogjakarta, the Indonesian capital, was seized by Dutch paratroopers and President Sukarno, Prime Minister Mohammed Hatta, and several other members of the government arrested and placed in custody on an isolated island. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru condemned Holland’s action, which he described as naked and brazen aggression, and closed all Indian seaports and airports to Dutch vessels and aircraft. Thereafter, Nehru, responding to the call of Burmese Prime Minister U Nu to hold a conference of Asian States in defence of Indonesia, convened an International Conference, which was attended by 19 countries including Australia and New Zealand. The United States and Britain, which tacitly supported the Dutch military attempt to re-take Indonesia, were unhappy at the holding of the conference and exerted pressure behind the scene to sway the outcome of the conference. Nevertheless, the Conference unhesitatingly condemned the Dutch aggression and called for the immediate release of the detained members of the Indonesian government, withdrawal of Dutch troops from Jogjakarta and handing over of power to the United States of Indonesia by January 1, 1950. It led to the ending of hostilities on May 7, 1949 and an agreement to conduct further negotiations at a conference to be held under the auspices of the United Nations.


b) Vietnam

The French colony of Indochina (consisting of Vietnam, Laos, & Cambodia) was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. In 1941, the Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh established a Vietnamese nationalist movement, the Viet Minh, to resist the occupiers and waged a guerrilla war against the Japanese. However, Japan, which began the war on the promise to establish a ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ (a new international order seeking co-prosperity for Asian countries free from Western domination) also promoted Vietnamese nationalism and ultimately granted Vietnam independence in March 1945 under the title ‘Empire of Vietnam’ (short-lived) with Vietnamese Monarch Bao Dai as titular head.


Following the Japanese defeat in WWII, the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh took over the Government in Vietnam, but the French attempted to retake possession of their colony. Their entry into Vietnam was only allowed by the Viet Minh after assurances by the French that the country will be granted independence as part of the French Union. But negotiations between the two sides were unsuccessful and in December 1946 the French shelled the Port of Haiphong and forcibly seized the capital, Hanoi.

French re-occupation of Vietnam resulted in a conflict that ended when the French were decisively defeated by the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The conflict was finally settled by the 1954 Geneva Accords, which temporarily partitioned the country at the 17th Parallel, with the Viet Minh in control of the north, and a non-Communist state to be formed in the south under Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. This division was to last until 1956, when national elections would be held to decide the future of the nation, but the South Vietnamese Government under Ngo Dinh Diem scuttled the arrangement with American support. The developments in Vietnam following the Geneva Accords in 1954 are well known.


Colombo Conference of 1954


A mini-summit of five South Asian Premiers was held in Colombo, Ceylon from April 29 to May 2, 1954 to prepare a plan for a solution of the Indo-China conflict at the initiative of Sir John Kotelawala, Prime Minister of Ceylon. Prime Ministers of Burma (U Nu), India (Jawaharlal Nehru), Indonesia (Ali Sastroamidjojo), and Pakistan (Mohammed Ali) were invited. It was at this Colombo Conference that the desirability of holding a conference of Asian and African nations was discussed; Indonesian Prime Minister Dr. Ali Sastroamidjojo was the main exponent of the need for such a conference with which a new foundation could be laid for a new movement of independent nations in Asia and Africa. Sri Lanka played a key role in the initial phase by organising the conference of the Colombo Powers, from which followed the Bogor Conference which, in fact, was the prelude to Bandung. It was at the Bogor Conference that a decision was taken in respect of the number of countries to be invited to the Bandung (originally 30). It laid down four principles and purposes of the proposed Asian African Conference.


Panchsheel: Basis of Sino Indian Friendship


The forging of ties between the newly liberated India (1947) and the newly established People’s Republic of China (1949) began in June 1954 during a recess in the Geneva conference discussing the future of Indo-China including the grant of independence and reunification of Vietnam, following the defeat of French colonial forces in the battle of Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh led by General Võ Nguyên Giáp in May 1954.


VK Krishna Menon, India’s representative at the conference, extended an invitation to Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai to visit India; he accepted. The ensuing talks between Chou En-Lai and Jawaharlal Nehru ended on June 28, 1954 in the signing of a joint statement on the principles on which relations between India and China were to be based. These principles, subsequently known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence or Panchsheel, were: (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) non-aggression; (3) non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit; and (5) peaceful coexistence.


India’s Proactive Role in Asia


a) Korean War

India’s foreign policy was deeply influenced by events following the commencement of the Korean War on June 25, 1950. Though India initially voted in favour of the UN Security Council resolution that permitted the US to enter the Korean War under the flag of the UN, India refused to provide military support and sent only a medical team on a humanitarian mission. India took the position that its objective was to localise the conflict and work towards bringing the violence to an end. When the ‘UN Forces’ approached the 38th Parallel, Nehru pleaded not to cross it particularly since China had forewarned that in such an event it would be forced to intervene on the side of North Korea in the war. However, the US invaded North Korea in early October 1950, forcing China to enter the war with ‘Chinese volunteers’ crossing the Yalu River into North Korea. Further, India opposed a UN resolution that declared the Peoples Republic of China an aggressor in the Korean War. India proceeded to play a significant role in proposing an Armistice which was accepted by the UN and the People’s Volunteer Army of China leading to the end of fighting on July 27, 1953. India was appointed to head the neutral-nations commission for repatriation of prisoners of war.


b) Peace Treaty with Japan

Hon. JR Jayewardene earned for Sri Lanka the undying affection and gratitude of Japan and the Japanese people for his magnanimous stand at the San Francisco Conference convened by the United States on September 8, 1951 to sign the peace treaty with Japan, when he called on the delegates to show compassion and understanding towards Japan and not to accept reparations from Japan quoting the Buddha’s noble words that ‘hatred ceases not by hatred but by love’. India too earned Japan’s friendship for refusing to attend the San Francisco Conference because of the US position that the provisions of the treaty were non-negotiable. India interpreted certain provisions of the Treaty as constituting limitations on Japanese sovereignty and national independence. India entered into a separate peace treaty with Japan on June 9, 1952 to give Japan a proper position of honor and equality among the community of free nations.


c) Justice Radha Binod Pal – the dissenting Indian

No foreigner is as venerated in Japan as Justice Radha Binod Pal who said ‘Not Guilty’ when the sentence of death was pronounced on former Japanese Prime Minister Tojo and 24 others for war crimes by all the other Judges at the end of the Tokyo Trials in 1948. Justice Pal charged that the War Crimes Trials of Japanese leaders were incapable of conducting a fair inquiry or delivering a just sentence because the entire process at these trials constituted a “sham employment of the legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge”


It is said that Hideki Tojo left a haiku (poem) in praise of Pal before walking to the gallows. Pal admired Pan-Asianism and viewed the proceedings of the non-impartial War Crimes Tribunal at Tokyo through that prism. On a visit to Japan in 1966 Pal remarked that he had been an admirer of Japan from a young age for being the only Asian nation that “stood up against the West.” To this day, Japan’s nationalist leaders and opinion builders regard Pal as a hero. 

The Emperor of Japan conferred on Pal the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasures, Japan’s greatest civilian honour, in 1966. Justice Pal’s dissenting judgment is frequently referred to by diplomats and political leaders in the context of Indo-Japanese friendship. In 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a speech before the Japanese Parliament, said: “The principled judgment of Justice Radhabinod Pal after the War is remembered even today in Japan. These events reflect the depth of our friendship and the fact that we have stood by each other at critical moments in our history.”

such is the reverence for Pal that a monument dedicated to him stands on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine. There are only three Indians whom the Japanese revere - Lord Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and Justice Radha Binod Pal. Perhaps they should consider adding the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to this illustrious list for enlisting the assistance of Japan to liberate India from colonial rule. 

(See, The Dissenting Indian by Pheroze Kharegat, Deccan Herald


China at Bandung Conference


China’s attendance at the Bandung Conference gave much legitimacy and success to the event. Despite a terrorist attack on an Air India Chartered plane carrying a group of Chinese delegates from Hong Kong to Bandung, resulting in the plane blowing up in mid air over the South China Sea killing 16 Chinese delegates and the crew, a bomb presumably meant to target the Premier Chou en Lai, about 340 delegates attended the conference.


The Final Communiqué implored the participating nations to remain free from mistrust and fear, to show goodwill towards each other, to practice tolerance, to live together in peace with one another as good neighbors and to develop friendly cooperation on the basis of declared ten principles. But despite the huge optimism generated by the Bandung Conference, the friendship between India and China was converted into one of mistrust and unpleasantness in the second half of the 1950s and has largely continued to remain that way.


Challenges before Narendra Modi


India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi must claim its rightful place in Asia and the larger world as one of its true leaders, politically, economically and even militarily, and in order to demonstrate these credentials India must abandon without reservation the Manmohan Singh government’s policy of subservience to the West. Servility to the new sponsors of colonialism will undercut any Indian claim to lead the nations of Asia.


India must mend strains in its relationship with China and not allow interfering outsiders from the West to identify India’s friends and potential enemies. The historical fact is that India and China despite being neighbours on the Asian continent had never gone to war with each other for over 5000 years except on one dismal occasion in 1962 when it clashed over a border issue with roots in British colonial mischief.


India must set her foreign policy agenda and goals from a national rather than regional perspective. The Manmohan Singh Government’s policy of appeasing regional blocks in India led to India’s near total isolation from its immediate neighbours in South Asia.


India’s moral voice must be heard again in the far corners of the world in a manner that the Buddha, Mahavira, Asoka, Nagarjuna, Swami Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (Babasaheb) and others resounded to the joy and delight of humankind. Idealism must re-surface in India and help to re-charge the batteries of a spiritually weakened Asia, now increasingly despoiled by unbridled crass materialism.  The measuring of social progress solely by an economic yardstick to the detriment of moral and ethical values once championed by India’s great spiritual leaders must end.


We have obligations to humanity and all other living beings. India’s Constitution provides that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures,” (Article 51 A, g). This is the vision that Gautama Buddha had for Bharat and Asoka strove to establish in the form of a compassionate society. Narendra Modi must accept the challenge of transforming India into a compassionate society and strive to end Man’s inhumanity towards animals. The steps he took as Chief Minister of Gujarat to stop cattle slaughter and legislate against cruelty to animals are moves in the right direction.


India more than any other country provided the value system for the moral and ethical foundations of Asia, through the influence of Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism, well integrated with Chinese culture and civilisation, ensured China’s friendship with India down the ages. Both India and China are ‘mother’ countries for the people of Asia; their civilisations have contributed immensely to the economic, cultural and moral development of the rest of Asia. Asia’s stability in today’s world rests primarily on the leadership that India and China acting together in peace and harmony would be able to provide. 

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