This article is written by Sarthak Kulshrestha, a B.A.LL.B. student from Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal. This article explains the relations between India and China with respect to the Panchsheel Agreement and also mentions its aftermath.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


In the present era, when the bilateral relations between India and China are talked through, the major outlook inclines towards bitterness, rivalry, and hostility. There have been several political, economic, and social factors affecting the relationship between the two that have made the scenario worse over decades. But turning back to the past, we get to know that the relationship between both nations was much more harmonious and friendly.

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This is not only about the recent past, but the amicable relations between India & China can be traced back to ancient times. Even in the colonial period when India was under British rule, the Indian leaders were strong supporters of the Chinese, despite the British criticising them for the same. India also encouraged the Chinese freedom struggle against colonial rule. After its independence, India recognised China as an independent country. Following the friendship, India signed the Panchsheel Agreement with China in the year 1954 to set up trade relations and strengthen the bilateral ties between them.

This article explains the significance and impact of the above-mentioned agreement in detail and also discusses its aftermath. 

History of India-China relations 

For a long time, both the nations had been cooperating on the bilateral front as the economic and cultural ties held them together since the 1st century A.D. The trade became very frequent and it increased through the Silk Road corridor. Various pilgrims came from China to India and studied here. Educational institutes like Nalanda University provided remarkable education on Buddhism to the Chinese pilgrims. The teachings of Buddhism influenced them to such a great extent that Buddhism became the paramount religion of China. Also, a lot of Buddhist monks used to travel to China to spread ideas and learnings of Buddhism. In this way, religious ties were established between both countries and continued over centuries even till now.

Interestingly, the Mahabharata also substantiates the credentials of the historical relationship between India and China, where China has been referred to as ‘Qin that later came to be known as the ‘Qin dynasty. Moreover, Kautilya’s Arthashastra also gives evidence of ancient India’s contacts with China where Chinese silk was referred to as ‘Cinamsuka and ‘Cinapatta’. 

So, it can be said that India is one of the oldest foreign citizens to have established relations with China on economic, cultural, and other such fronts. 

Political relations during the colonial era

Though both countries shared ties for hundreds of years, no explicit political relations were kept up by either side. The British invasion of Tibet led to extensive trade, and in the year 1914, the  Shimla Accord was signed by both governments under which the authority of the British government was extended over the Southern region of Tibet. This also created a boundary between India and Tibet called the McMohan line. While the British policies towards China had been critical, the attitude of Indian leaders was sympathetic towards China.

India’s support to the Chinese freedom struggle 

Maintaining friendly relations with China was the foremost and principal objective of the former Prime Minister of India, Mr Jawarlal Nehru in the arena of International relations. So, India also supported the freedom struggle of China. Several rallies and agitations were conducted in India in support of the Chinese freedom struggle. The Indian National Congress under the leadership of Nehru, sent a medical team to China to assist the wounded soldiers of the Chinese freedom struggle. Finally, China got its independence on 1st October 1949, by defeating the Kuomintang (KMT) reign. Thus, India became a very robust non-communist champion of China in the international forums and committed to giving the newly independent nation recognised status in the international fraternity.

The Panchsheel Agreement

We have discussed above how India and China have maintained their friendly relations over many years on multiple fronts. But, in 1954, the foundation of India-China relations was laid down when the Panchsheel Agreement was signed by the representatives of both the nations.

The term, ‘Panchsheel’ is derived from Buddhist inscriptions which literally means five prohibitions that determine a Buddhist monk’s behaviour. In our context, the two words which it includes have their respective meanings, i.e. Panch which means ‘five’, and Sheel which means ‘the principles’. Hence, as the term itself suggests, the Panchsheel Agreement involves five principles to agree upon by both India and China. 

This pact of historic significance is “the Agreement on trade and intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India”. The Preamble of this treaty embodies the very objective of the Panchsheel Agreement which is to establish peaceful coexistence through five principles. The principles of the Panchsheel Agreement are as follows: 

  1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,
  2. Mutual non-aggression, 
  3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
  4. Equality and mutual benefit, and
  5. Peaceful co-existence.

The Panchsheel Agreement was signed by N. Raghavan, Indian Ambassador to China, and Chang Han-Fu, Deputy Foreign Minister of China on April 29, 1954. At the Asian Prime Minister Conference that was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the former PM Jawaharlal Nehru, and Premier Zhou Enlai made a broadcast speech in which they put emphasis on the above-stated five principles of the Panchsheel Agreement and upheld the spirit of brotherhood between both the nations.

Five Articles of the Panchsheel Agreement 

The Agreement consisted of the Preamble and five Articles also which delineated the five core principles of the treaty in several aspects. They are as follows: 

Article 1

The Panchsheel Agreement was, by nature, a  trade agreement. Article 1 of the treaty allowed China to set up its trade agencies in a few cities of India such as New Delhi, Calcutta, and Kalimpong. Similarly, India was also supposed to set up its trade agencies in some of the Chinese cities such as Yatung, Gyantse, and Gartok. Both countries were given the privileges to carry out free trade and enjoy the freedom to conduct their businesses and were accorded dispensation from arrest and deportation. 

Article 2

Article 2 provided for the specification of markets to both countries at that place where they were supposed to carry out their business. China agreed to give Yatung, Phari, and Gyantse to India as the specified markets for Indian businessmen. And, India specified Siliguri, Kalimpong, and Calcutta as the marketplaces for the Chinese traders. Under this Article, both the countries also set up common markets for the trade of items belonging to both nations. 

Article 3

This Article dealt with an issue other than trade. According to this provision, the pilgrims were allowed to visit the holy places located on either side. The Indian pilgrims were allowed to travel to Kang Rimpoche (Kailash), and MavamTse (Mansarovar) in the Tibet area of China. On the other hand, pilgrims from China were allowed to visit Banaras (Varanasi), Sarnath, Gaya, and Sanchi.

Article 4

Under this Article, India and China also agreed to open passes like Shipki La Pass, Mana Pass, Niti Pass, KungriBingri Pass, Dana Pass, and LipuLekh Pass for traders and pilgrimages.

Article 5

The travellers, pilgrimages, and traders were given freehand at the visit on either of the sides.  And Article 5 mandated that diplomatic personnel, officials, and nationals of both countries shall hold their passports issued by their native country when they want to visit the other one, and visas by the other side to travel into their territories.

The Panchsheel was also incorporated in the ‘Ten Principles of International Peace and Cooperation’. It was introduced in the Bandung Conference of 1955 attended by 29 Afro-Asian countries. The universal relevance of Panchsheel was taken into consideration when its principles were incorporated in a resolution on peaceful coexistence presented by India, Yugoslavia & Sweden, and adopted on December 11, 1957, by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

India-China diplomacy and the spirit of brotherhood 

After signing the Panchsheel Agreement, in June 1954, the then Prime Minister of China, Zhou Enlai visited India. This visit was of a lot of significance because it symbolised the growth of friendship between both nations. It also helped to make up the mind of the Indian government in the matter of foreign policy of China with respect to Tibet. A meticulous discussion took place among Zhou Enlai, Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, and other members of leadership. 

The five principles of the Panchsheel Agreement were revisited and affirmed once again. Thus, this meeting also holds its significance in the view of letting the Panchsheel Agreement rack up more weight and gravity. To keep the spirit of mutual benefit, PM Nehru made a counter-visit to China after a few months. Nehru raised India’s concern towards the Chinese map showing the parts of the Ladakh region and NEFA under China. Zhou Enlai assured PM Nehru that these are old maps of the KMT Reign and will be revised.

During Prime Minister Nehru’s visit to China, the Sino-Indian Agreement was signed by the leaders of both nations in Beijing. This kept on recurring for more times and subsequently, the slogan of “Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai” (Indians-Chinese are brothers) was raised and the spirit of brotherhood pervaded among the communities of both countries.

The Panchsheel Agreement was a step in the right direction and also, to some extent it served the cooperative interests of both India and China. The five principles of the treaty were formulated so as to establish and maintain solidarity between the two and lead the Asian economy together. However, questions are often raised on the leniency of the Indian government in the matter of the Panchsheel Agreement. Many scholars argue that though this agreement strengthened the bilateral relations of both nations, it has adversely affected the foreign policy of India.

Nehru gave up India’s grip over Tibet to China which India inherited from the British rule. He did not want the colonial legacy to act as ornamentation for India so he felt it was right to get rid of such colonial occupation. This also complemented Nehru’s will to strengthen the bilateral ties with China. This treaty acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

Aftermath of the agreement

By the treaty, India had withdrawn its military bases from Tibet and surrendered communication links and services too. The sacrifices made by India were neither consistent with the principles of the Panchsheel Agreement nor with the long-term interests of the nation. Under this Agreement, how these sacrifices have adversely affected the interests of India has been described in the following points : 

  • Firstly, India was running trade agencies in Yatung, Gyantse, and Gartok even before the Agreement was signed. On the other hand, China did not have any such trade agencies back then. So, India having those trade agencies in Tibet was good for nothing. 
  • Secondly, India surrendered the communication links and services which resulted in restricted communication with that region. This went against India because no source of information was available to keep a check on Chinese activities in Tibet. 
  • Thirdly, the withdrawal of Indian armed personnel from Tibet raised the risk of Chinese incursion into India. 
  • Fourthly, fixing the term of the ‘agreement of peaceful coexistence’ for eight years was proved to be a blunder. Moreover, the condition was put that the agreement can only be renewed by the will of both countries if needed.
  • China used these eight years to settle the Tibet issue, hence, did not show any interest to renew the agreement. Since the agreement came to an end in 1962, the five principles of ‘peaceful coexistence’ did not make any sense for China when they attacked India in 1962

So, the spirit of the Panchsheel Agreement could not stay alive within both nations for a long enough time. The blooming of the Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the Chinese allegation of Indian involvement in the armed struggle put the two states apart. India’s decision to grant political asylum to Tibetan spiritual leaders and its permission to run a Tibetan government in exile in India further increased the Chinese suspicion towards India. Following the annexation of Tibet by China, India came to share an unsettled border with China. This led to armed conflicts between both countries.


Trade and culture have been two arenas that kept the relations between India and China intact and friendly throughout history till their independence. The relevance of this agreement has been rooted in the age-old traditions of both countries. The linkage that was established by the spread of Buddhism in China, ultimately laid down the historical basis for the formulation of the principles of Panchsheel by India and China.

Keeping aside the rivalry which is still going on, the countries should reminisce their old connections and friendly relations with each other. This would help them to reconstruct the cooperation and to serve their respective interests. The governments should put some effort into facilitating trade between them and in today’s era, social media can work towards shared prosperity among the people of both sides.


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