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ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP

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Diplomats' Reminiscences

 

WALK OUT OF THE DINNER AND EAT IT

A TALK AT IGNCA 

Brajesh Mishra

46

I was in New York in 1968 when instructions came that I was to go to Beijing, I was to be the Charge d’ Affaires (CAD), and, the posting had perhaps  something to do with the fact that in 1960-61. I was Deputy Secretary (China) at headquarters. Perhaps it also had something to do with the political family to which I belong. I remember after my posting was announced, one newspaper, (The Patriot) wrote that there must be something deep in the posting of Brajesh Mishra to China. Perhaps says The Patriot, Mrs. Gandhi wants to improve relations and knowing that Brajesh Mishra is the son of his father, she thinks that she will get political support far improving relations with China. I don’t think Mrs. Gandhi had anything in her mind about my pedigree before posting me to China, but she certainly wished to improve relations with China. In fact, when I called on her before leaving for Beijing, she instructed me in one sentence. She said: “I am in a box so far as relations with China are concerned, and I want us to get out of that box.” And then we talked about other matters so her intention was quite clear and this was in 1969 when she had not yet established her supremacy in the Congress Party. It was going to happen later that year and yet less than seven years after the 1962 war, she was conscious that the two countries had to at least normalize the relations even if they could not go back to the earlier days.  So, I got to Beijing in April 1969, somebody from the embassy came to Hong Kong to escort me to Beijing.  As we crossed the border this gentleman who came to escort me from the embassy came to Hong Kong to escort me to Beijing.  As we crossed the border this gentleman who came to escort me from Beijing, who knew Chinese, apparently half years in Beijing, I was received only once by the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of Asia, Han Nianlong, and that too in 1971, i.e., two years and many months after my arrival in Beijing. Kishan Rana had joined me by that time, china had gained her right for a place UN, Indira Gandhi wrote letters to heads of state of government explaining our case regard to a letter for Premier Zhou Enlai, which I delivered to Han Nianlong. That was the only time he received me.  Those days of a lot of propaganda against India I used to go very often to the Chinese Foreign Office or for a few months by the Director, who later became Ambassador to Turkey. We used to engage in discussion about India-China relations, and how to improve them. This went on for about a year when on the 1st may 1970 the heads of mission were lined up on the ramparts of the Tiananmen and to our surprise Chairman Mao was present there.  So there we were lined up in order of precedence, and I was virtually the last one just after the British CAD.  Chairman Mao went to each head of mission shaking hands. Then he came to the British CAD, who congratulated Chairman Mao on the satellite which the Chinese had sent up then Chairman Mao replied, “My greetings to the Queen, and we wish her the same success".  Then he came to me and said: “My greetings to President Giri and to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi”, and then I we keep on quarrelling like this?” Then he kept quiet for a moment and said let famous Mao smile and handshake which all of you knows about. There was his desire to be friends again. There was the international scene, American jets had but basically I took it to mean that the Chines Government was reciprocating the Government of India improve the relations. From then on, things began to improve Office and there was more forthrightness in talking to us and this went on until elections, she won with a thumping majority. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, at one party, asked me to Mrs. Gandhi. And then came the problem in East Pakistan. The way I perceived it, the Chinese stepped back as soon as it became clear that Indo-Pak relations were going to take a nosedive over the problems  in East Pakistan. In August 1971, I came to Delhi for consultations, on 9th of August. The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace was concluded, Obviously all this had an effect upon Chinese thinking. But I want to share an open secret. Even at that time, despite the lukewarm attitude in Beijing and despite the corresponding negative thoughts in the Foreign Office in Delhi, Mrs. Gandhi was quite clear that the effort to improve relations must continue. In 1971 during one of my meetings with Mrs. Gandhi I got a clearance from her to propose exactly the same thing. I went back to Beijing in September 1971, the Lin Biao incident had taken place, the leadership was busy with the aftermath and there wasn’t much of a response. Then by October things had hotted up between India and Pakistan, China had become a permanent member of the Security Council, and obviously that was not the time, so far as the Chinese were concerned, to think of exchange of Ambassadors between India and China.

So, during the Indo-Pakistan War, the situation was tense, and there was apprehension that the Chinese might intervene and we spent two weeks and more wondering as to what was going to happen. But in this connection, I must go back before the War. About a week before the war began I had a conversation with the Direction of the Asia Division, the gentleman who became China’s Ambassador to Turkey afterwards. We had a long discussion, with myself explaining what was happening in East Pakistan etc. and towards the end, he said to me: “Mr. CAD, you should understand, that China will act in accordance with international law.” I don’t know what kind of expression I had w1 my face, I probably gave him the impression that I hadn’t understood what he was saying, so as we came out he walked up to the gate to see me off, he repeated that sentence. So there was a feeling I gathered that China was not going to intervene, militarily at least, in the conflict. The war was over by 16th December and on 17th December, I was called to the Foreign Office, and handed over a note of protest against Indian troops crossing the Sikkim border. We wondered as to why this kind of note because the Indian Army was engaged in various fronts and would not be foolish enough to cross the Sikkim border. But Kishan told me not to bother, this is just a show of solidarity with Pakistan. This note we sent to Delhi.

After the war, it took a long time for the Chinese to make alp there mind that the time was ripe for the process of normalisation to begin. I had left by that time, but I must recount another incident which touched me quite a lot. November, 29 used to be the Albanian Day and Albania was the most important friend of China during that period. The Albanian Ambassador was the most important diplomat and a reception was organized by him in the Peking Hotel. I was there, the normal practice was that after the second course, the host would make a speech and the Chinese would reply. After the second course, no speech, it was only after the ice cream was served that the speeches began, and of course the Chinese guest attacked India on Indo-Pak conflict and I walked out. This kept on happening from the 29th November till the 16th December. I must have attended four or five banquets during that period, and no speech was made when the second course was served. Speeches took place only after ice cream. Later on, a Pakistan diplomat told me that the Chinese had indicated that they would like the Indian CAD to complete his meal before he walked out. So, I would enjoy the courses plus the ice cream and then had my walk out -my wife following suit with a full stomach.

I have dealt with this India-Pakistan-China triangle because even today, it bedevils our relationship with China. I wanted to tell you as to how it affected the improvement in Sino-lndian relations even at that time. Since it is a long standing problem, this triangle has to be looked into. It’s not going to be easy to normalize relations without finding a solution to this problem. The border question has to be settled, the level of trust and confidence necessary between two friends will not be there finally, until the border question is settled fairly and equitably. But we must not forget that the other problem which faces us is what is perceived in India as China’s support to Pakistan against India. May be our perceptions are wrong, may be there’s another side to the story, but this is the perception in this country by and large. And I believe having worked for more than four years in Beijing trying to mend the relationship, trying to begin the process of normalization, f believe that this full normalization is not going to be possible until this [Sino-Pak collaboration] problem is taken care of. Either India accepts the point of view of China, or China modifies its stand. This is not to say that the process of normalization in other spheres should not continue, it must of course. May be that process of normalization would bring about a situation where it would be easier to solve the border question, and to deal with India-Pakistan-China triangle. May be the intervention of trade, economic relations, other kinds of cooperations would help us in arriving at a normal situation and we must pursue it. After all let us not forget that we are saying the same thing to Pakistan and Bangladesh, we are saying to Pakistan that of course we must discuss Kashmir, but let us also proceed in other spheres, and we are saying to Bangladesh that of course we must have a satisfactory agreement on sharing of river water but let us also proceed elsewhere. We in India, need also to recognise that China has become a global player, economically and politically, therefore, we need to recognize that China has certain other preoccupations, and we need to recognize that in those other preoccupations there could be a question mark in China’s mind as to what India’s attitude would be.

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© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher. 

Published in 1998 by 

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