Two conversations that Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai had in the 1960s with their Pakistani interlocutors reveal the nature of close consultations between Islamabad and Beijing when it came to India.
In comments to a visiting Pakistani Minister, Mao was quoted as saying, “I once said to the former Indian ambassador [to China], the younger [R.K.] Nehru, that our main enemy is the United States. You are not our enemy. Later, I ordered that Chinese soldiers are not allowed to shoot at the Indian army. A Chinese soldier ran to India and told them about it. They thought we would never shoot. They are [were] very happy and went to our rear areas to walk around. We changed our plan. We increased our strength to three-and-a-half divisions, hit them, and then retreated. They weren’t expecting that.”
R.K. Nehru was India’s Ambassador to China from November 1955 to July 1958.
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Wealth as power
Mao also reveals what it means for a country to be “rich” in his strategic view: “The main thing is that if you can get rich, you will be fine. You will be able to boycott the United States, Britain and India, and you will be fine. You will need to make weapons. Can you make them? Start by repairing them and move up to building them yourself later.”
The Chinese leader also asks Pakistani Commerce Minister Wahid Zaman in July 1964 why Pakistan didn’t fear the Communist Party but the “capitalists” and then proceeds to answer his own question. The conversation is available in the Wilson Center’s Digital Archive.
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“I think this is because we have no conflicts of interest and no border disputes. We don’t want to encroach on your land. You don’t want our Tibet or Xinjiang either. Neither of us wants to exploit and oppress. We are equal and as equals we can be friends,” Mao tells Zaman.
“We had good relations with India for several years. Then when we took Tibet back, India got annoyed… India not only infringed on 90,000 square kilometers of Chinese territory but they want all of Tibet as well…The Indian people are good, but capitalists like [Jawaharlal] Nehru are not good,” Mao added.
Zhou on Kashmir
Mao’s conversation with Zaman and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s talks with Bangla peasant leader Maulana Bhashani in November 1963 also shows the depth of discussion between Pakistan and China on Kashmir and other issues.
Zhou takes great pains to emphasise why in public China advocates the route of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir dispute.
“If we were to say that we support self-determination for the people of Kashmir, India would simply suggest self-determination for the people of the Aksai Chin region in Xinjiang; following that, it would raise the issue for Tibet. These are both our territory, why should they have self-determination,” he says.
In Zhou’s view, India wanted to occupy the Aksai Chin region — namely, “their so-called Ladakh”. The Chinese Premier said that while Pakistan wanted China to support the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris “but in fact our actions already go beyond this”, a transcript of the November 1963 conversation, also available in the Wilson Centre Digital Archive, stated.
“We have settled the Sino-Pakistani border question with you; the people of the world understand this, and it indicates that we acknowledge that this region belongs to you. Even though there remains something left unsaid, this is only because of the stipulations of international law – [Pakistani] Ambassador [Agha Mohamed] Raza knows this; but we will talk again after the sovereignty jurisdiction issue has been settled,” Zhou added.
“Our concrete actions offer benefit than abstract statements…In fact, the right to national self-determination is stipulated explicitly in the United Nations Charter and the UN has also adopted a resolution of abstract principles. We have consistently supported these abstract principles of national self-determination, but settling these issues requires relying on concrete measures. Therefore, the two of us opposing India’s aggression together is most concrete and effective,” Zhou added.
Both Mao and Zhou’s comments suggest that the top Chinese leadership was far from averse to sending false signals to India or saying something in public to safeguard their national positions — like on Kashmir.
As these two candid conversations reveal, India — yesterday and today — is dealing with a formidable adversary, which can set abstract principles in opposition to concrete measures, and whose foreign policy is guided by domestic compulsions.