The Kosygin-Chou Meeting


The meeting of Kosygin and Chou En lai in Peking on September 11, is regarded as the most significant event in recent times. Not that significant results are sure to come out of it. That it was held at all is most surprising. The news took diplomats at the United Nations by surprise and many even disbelieved it for a while. One Western diplomat called it ‘astounding’ while Eastern European officials called it ‘inconceivable.’


The dramatic nature of the events only heightened the element of surprise. As is well known, it was in Hanoi, where all the Communist top-brass assembled to pay homage to the late Dr. Ho Chi Minh, that the decision to hold the talks was taken. Yet the last moment everything indicated that a meeting was not in the offing. Kosygin, to begin with, avoided the route to Hanoi via Peking, choosing the Delhi route instead. As if returning the compliment the Chinese leader left Hanoi in a hurry just on the eve of Kosygin’s arrival there. Then, after a five day stay, the Russian leader left Hanoi for Moscow via Calcutta. And then, after stopping as Dushanabe he seems to have decided to take a detour to Peking for the talks. Thus till the last moment, not only was there no hint of an impending meeting, but the parties seemed to have deliberately manoeuvred to avoid even a chance meeting.


Of course the real cause for surprise is that in the context of the brinkmanship exhibited by Moscow and Peking the leaders should now suddenly turn to talks. In this sense, the surprise expressed by the outside world is a measure of the extent to which Sino-Soviet relations have degenerated almost to the point of no return.


For over a decade the Sino-Soviet schism has escalated into bitter animosity manifesting of late in military engagements. What is even more ominous is the fact that the itch to fight seems to have got the better of the urge to negotiate. For example, after the clashes of last March on the Ussuri river in the Far East, the Russians and the Chinese arrived at an agreement over the navigational rights in the river at Khabarousk on August 8, and on the 13th of the same month a major armed clash occurred on the Sinkiang border. The rhetoric on either side confirms how psychologically prepared both sides are for a major conflagration. Of all persons, a Soviet nuclear physicist was said to have told an American colleague that the Soviet people are fed up with China and added: “When we go to war we will not fight with our little finger like you Americans. We will be fighting to death.” To this the Chinese response had been that “neither a small war, nor a big war, nor a nuclear war can ever intimidate the Chinese people.”


There is, then, the widely held view that the Russians had actually decided upon a pre-emptive strike at China, aimed, in particular, at the elimination of Chinese nuclear installations situated in the provinces of Sinkiang, Kansu and Inner Mongolia. As a matter of fact almost all of these are very close to the Russian and outer Mongolian borders. And there is enough evidence to support the pre-emptive strike theory. Ever since the Communist Meet in last June, Moscow has been dropping hints of a possible action against China. Even more significant has been the increasing Russian military build up in Outer Mongolia. Mr. Harrison Salisbury of the “New York Times” in a series of articles written after a visit to Outer Mongolia described it thus: “There are other physical changes, quantitative and qualitative, measurable by one who has been coming to Mongolia and Siberia over the past decade: the emplacement of missiles and high-fidelity communication lines, the dispersal over the Mongol steppe of fighter aircraft in field shelters and the installation of radar detection networks.”


Other corroborative evidence is also forthcoming. A second secretary in the Russian Embassy in Washington is reported to have given U. S. officials a flip-chart briefing on prospective Russian military moves against China. More important is the instance of a letter written by Moscow to the Australian Communist Party in which the Russians raised the possibility of a pre-emptive attack. Add to all this the weighty consideration that the Chinese are about to come out with their own intercontinental ballastic missile in a couple of years time. It is thus credible that the Russians may be considering a strike at the nuclear installations before Peking develops its own delivery system. The Chinese reaction also supports the thesis. An order has been issued under the imprimatur of Chairman Mao to the cadres which has been described as a ‘virtual mobilisation order.’ Special indoctrination briefings for Chinese military, state and party personnel are being held currently and the participants are told that the gaseous diffusion plant at Lanchow in the Kansu Province and the atomic test site at Lop Nor in Sinkiang, are probable targets of Soviet attack.


In view of this very grave deterioration of the situation, it should really surprise no one that ideological allies, interested in averting a shameful war among the senior members of the communist brotherhood, should try to persuade Moscow and Peking to talk over things and thus first de-fuse the explosive situation. Even the parties concerned, one should expect, might have been waiting for an opportunity to make a last minute effort to avert an Armageddon. Mr. Sanzo Nosaka of the Japanese Communist Party and Mr. Ion George Maurer, Premier of Rumania, are being credited with having successfully goaded Kosygin and Chou to meet face to face. The latter, in particular, had met Chou in Peking even before he arrived in Hanoi and later worked up things with Kosygin in Hanoi. The solemn and grave occasion of the death of Ho Chi Minh (who so successfully managed to keep off the Sino- Soviet schism) must have offered the most appropriate opportunity mediators to these mediators to press their point home. The last will and testament of Ho contained an exhortation for communist unity and not even communist leaders can escape its sentimental impact. These facts should explain why the Russian and Chinese leaders met.


Yet certain facts call for further examination of the event. It is agreed generally that it was first the Russian leader who expressed willingness to meet his Chinese counterpart. Reports say that he left Moscow for Hanoi with a mandate from his Politburo for talks with Peking. On the other hand the hurried and unusual departure of Chou from Hanoi (barely within twenty-four hours of his arrival) is indicative of his reluctance to meet Kosygm who arrived in Hanoi the next day. Further, while the Russians had stopped their anti-Chinese tirades over the radio, Peking resumed its vituperations immediately after the meeting. These facts raise important doubts. If the Russians had decided upon a pre-emptive strike, why should they be eager to talk at all? Again, if the Russian pre-emptive strike theory is true one should have expected the Chinese to show, at least, equal eagerness to confer with Moscow.


Of course it is possible that the Chinese have not got rid of their braggadocio. The graver the threat the more adamant their postures. Did not Mao say, in the context of a possible war with America, that China has no fear of even a nuclear war and that she has at least a few millions to spare as cannon fodder? One can witness an echo of the same in the following statement made by peking in the context of the present Russian threat. It says that the struggle against Russia will not be halted, “not for a day, not for a month, not for a year, not for 100 years, not for 1000 years, not for 10,000 years.”


In the alternative, it is also possible that the Chinese are putting on a show of being cavalier and taciturn while really getting anxious within themselves. There are some indications that at least Chou and his group are not averse to resume a dialogue with Moscow. Eminent China experts like Victor Zorza of the Guardian clearly see a struggle for succession already going on in peking between the extremist faction led by Lin pao and the moderates led by Chou En lai. Though not even Chou can dare to advocate an unconditional reconciliation with Moscow, it could not be that Chou met Kosygin most reluctantly and for nothing. “It is not without significance that even before the Rumanian prime Minister, Mr. Maurer, met Kosygin in Hanoi, he, (Mr. Maurer) had talked to Chou in Peking proposing that he should meet Kosygin. Mr. Maurer continued his efforts with Chou again in Hanoi. And even when Chou hurriedly left for home his Vice Premier Li, was left behind to keep Chou informed of the progress of the mediators’ efforts with Kosygin in Hanoi. Further, when at almost Kosygin consented to the meeting he asked North Vietnam to contact Peking and peking’s green signal was conveyed to him while his plane touched Calcutta on its way to Moscow. Then the Russian leader went to Dushanabe in Soviet Tadzakisthan where he received further instructions from Moscow to proceed to Peking for the talks. Thus it could not be that China was forced against its will to face the Russians.


The most reasonable explanation of the affair seems to that neither Moscow nor Peking really intends to set itself on a collision course and that the recent clashes, the discreet hints even the troop movements were in the nature of deliberate probes in sensitive areas. Moscow might have dropped hints about a pre-emptive strike just in order to nettle the Chinese. As the “London Economist” said “these Russian trial balloons may of course be just nerve-testing ruses.” And the Chinese in spite of their brave words could not have remained entirely unaffected by the Russian hints. Thus it is most probable that the Russians themselves decided to take the first step in consenting to the talks knowing full well that these are not unwelcome to the Chinese either. In all this the fear that the deliberate probes might generate unforeseen situation must have worried the parties and Moscow in particular. For it cannot be ruled out that the Russians are taken aback at the hardening of the Chinese attitudes over the border disputes, as the recurrence of clashes in Sinkiang last August showed. Obviously there is the imminent danger of these probing border areas being retaliated with more than commensurate Chinese repraisals, thus leading to an unforeseen escalation of the clashes. It should be borne in mind that the Chinese are extremely sensitive about the Sinkiang, Kansu and Inner Mongolian areas not merely because their nuclear plants are located in these regions. Historically too, these Inner Asian regions have been the centres of China’s attention and in fact of China’s expansionist designs. Professor John K. Fairbank, that very eminent authority on modern China, has shown in a recent article on ‘China’s foreign policy,’ in Foreign Affairs (April 1969) how Inner Asia is of ‘Strategic Primacy’ to China. Thus the fear that these very regions have now become most vulnerable to Russian and Outer Mongolian threats might only drive Peking to a desperate action. Given the extremist faction in Peking, Moscow could not have missed this dimension to Peking’s policy. And as a more responsible power Moscow might have decided to initiate talks.




            It is difficult to prophecy the results of the meeting. There are no firm indications that a thaw has already set in as a result of the meeting, nor, for that matter, can one expect such an immediate change in the atmosphere. Yet there is enough evidence to warrant the conclusion that the meeting did de-fuse the explosive situation. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss border claims and incidentally to explore ways of restoring trade relations which have touched an all time low.


            As for the border talks it was decided that talks on the border issues would start soon. On October 8, the New China News Agency confirmed the talks, at Vice Foreign Ministers level, would be held though no date has yet been fixed. The fact that these are to be held at Junior Ministers level is an index to the persistence of misgivings on both sides. Again the tone of the Chinese assertions about the justness of their case apparently suggests that Peking is not going to show any sudden conversion of heart. In a document released the day after the announcement of the proposed talks, the Chinese have accused the Russians of unjustly holding on to 1.5 million square kilometers of Chinese territory that the hated Tsars had appropriated. Peking ridiculed the Russian contention that the Chinese Emperors had also been imperialistic as “a forgery of history in defence of the old Tsars’ aggression.” Yet a slight change in Peking’s stand is discernible. While demanding ‘equal’ treaties with Russia, it is significant that the Chinese now say that they are prepared to let the Russians keep these areas provided the present treaties are confirmed as ‘unequal’. Thus Peking wants Moscow to admit tacitly the past wrongs in return for its (Peking’s) future acquiescence of the territorial arrangements. Peking has realised the impossibility of changing the territorial status quo and wants to make a virtue out of necessity. Is this not proof of Chinese fears of border clashes escalating into full scale wars which might give Moscow the pretext for a larger pre-emptive strike? On the Soviet side also there is a slight mellowing in attitudes. They are now anxious that the Brezhnev proposal of last June should not be interpreted as one designed to encircle China with an Asian security alliance. While they still talk of an Asian security system, the Russians now deny that they have a defence pact in their minds. It is significant that they should make this clarification to the Indian External Affairs Minister, who had talks in Moscow immediately after the Kosygin-Chou meeting.


            Negotiations for stepping up trade contacts have just started in Moscow but it is curious that the Chinese would not like these talks to be regarded as follow up to the Kosygin-Chou meeting. This type of curious behaviour is indicative of continuing reticence on China’s part.


            While prospects of a ‘detente’ anywhere in the world are to be welcomed as good augury for world peace, it is still premature to say what shape the Sino-Soviet relations assume in the future.


Rout At Rabat


            The exclusion of India from the concluding session of the Conference of the Islamic Heads of States at Rabat is the worst diplomatic humiliation this country suffered so far. The magnitude of the shame far exceeds what we suffered at the abortive Afro-Asian conference that was to have been held in Algeria in 1965. It will be remembered that our own ‘Non-aligned’ friends like Indonesia, Ghana and Algeria teamed up against us in playing to the Pindi-Peking manoeuvres of trying to embarrass India at the Algiers conference. We were, then, left with the shameful alternative of trying to postpone the conference itself in order t oavert a major diplomatic rebuff. The Rabat affair is worse.


            The agony of the situation is that we ourselves filled the cup till nemesis overflowed. First we canvassed for an invitation by high blood pressure tactics, then we pocketed the insult of being physically prevented from attending the Plenary Session and then we returned home in shame after being unceremoniously excluded from the concluding session. The tragedy is that in spite of indications at various stages we allowed the nation’s self-respect to be humbled .


            It is not sufficiently explained what locus standi we have at a meeting of Islamic Heads. In fact, it is a matter of debate whether we should partake in a meeting of Islamic states. For, even if we have the third largest Muslim population, and a population larger than the combined population of many Islamic states, should not our secularism stand in the way of such participation? Indonesia largely Muslim, had the courage to refuse to participate on the secular principle. Mr. Dinesh Singh, our Minister for External Affairs, stated that long ago the Government decided that India should take part in all international Muslim conferences. This in itself is no justification. For, the standing policy itself is, then incompatible with our secular stand.


            Two possible motives could have influenced our decision-makers:


            Perhaps they were eager to join the other Muslim states in condemning the outrage on the Al Aqsa mosque, to discuss which the conference was ostensibly convened. While that as incident was in itself dastardly, yet why should we be over-enthusiastic in running to the conference when the Islamic Heads were not anxious to have us?


            The desire to please the Indian Muslims must have weighed considerably also. But does the Government feel so insecure with its secular image that it has constantly to worry about Muslim misgivings about India’s not joining each and every Muslim meet?


Pakistan’s Role


            It was Pakistan that started the mischief abetted actively by Morocco and Jordan and partly aided by Iran and Turkey. It is rumoured that General Yahya Khan was compelled by India-phobes in Pakistan to protest against the presence of the Indian delegation. The fact that even Pindi’s consent was obtained before the invitation was extended to India and that General Yahya later raised the flimsy objection that some of the members of the Indian delegation were non-Muslims, lend credence to the theory that the Pakistani President was made to change his stand suddenly. It could not be denied that the Ahmedabad riots lent support to Pindi’s invective against India. Even granting all this, Pakistan’s performance cannot but be called venomous to the core. There is a code of conduct that can be expected of even sworn enemies and General Yahya Khan has outstepped these limits at Rabat. In the context of all this the pose of sweet reasonableness assured by the Pakistani Information Minister during his talks with Mr. Dinesh Singh at the U. N. after the Rabat affair cannot be taken seriously. It is incredulous on the latter’s part to read in the tone of the Pak Minister any real change in Pakistan’s attitude. Pindi is only trying to impress the outside world and thereby retrieve the prestige she may have lost as a consequence of her cynical pursuit of melevolence at Rabat. Even if it is true that Pakistan is now prepared for direct bilateral talks on all outstanding disputes, it is doubtful whether we should simply ignore the insult we received and rush to grab the olive branch now being shown.


            The incident also discloses how effectively Pakistan could exploit the religious bogey on the one hand and its pro-Peking contacts on the other as it suits her convenience. It will be recalled that at Algiers in 1965, it was the pro-Peking group that came to Pakistan’s help. Now at Rabat it is in the name of Islam that India-baiting; was accomplished.


            Morocco, as the host, had an extra responsibility to be decent but she only showed added zeal in hurting India. The Moroccon Foreign Minister, it is reported, played the leading role in pressurizing Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed not to attend the session and to top it all it was the Moroccan King who was reported to have launched a tirade against India’s ill-treatment of her Muslim population. The Moroccan King subsequently denied having made any criticism of India and this explanation partly implies a desire to assuage India’s feelings. Yet it is curious that only a few days later, the king appointed his erring Foreign Minister as his Prime Minister. Is this a reward for services rendered to the cause of Pakistan?


            Jordan’s active support to General Yahya Khan is in stark contrast to our stout championship of the Arab demand for the immediate withdrawal of Israel from the west bank of the Jordan river. The behaviour of Iran and Turkey in playing to Pakistan’s tune only confirms how solid the non-Arab Muslim group of the middle-East is. Since a few years, we have been making sincere efforts to gain the sympathy and understanding of Iran and Turkey. Mr. M. C. Chagla, as the then Foreign Minister, took particular pains in this regard. There was even talk of our gaining a diplomatic break through in this area. Obviously we can never hope to gain the sympathy of Tehran and Ankara as long as the Pakistani attitude remains what it is.


India’s Immediate Reaction


            India’s immediate reaction was to persist in saying that it was right of us to have decided to participate in the conference and even to faintly suggest that we are looking forward to join the proposed conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers too. Yet the immensity of the rebuff coupled with the magnitude of reaction in the country made Delhi decide upon some action to assert our national pride.


            To begin with, our Ambassadors at Morocco and Jordan have been recalled. The recall of Ambassadors is a very serious act in diplomatic practice. But as observed the role of these two countries at Rabat had been particularly nasty and the severity of India’s response is warranted. But then how are we to deal with Pindi which engineered the whole show? New Delhi explained a way with a mere shrug saying that “we cannot expect anything better from Pakistan.” But is this profound discovery justification enough to suffer gratuitous insults at international meets; does this not amount to letting the main offenders go and catching the abettors? There is a more important implication too. If we are sure that India-baiting is the constant factor in Pindi’s strategies, what earthly purpose is served in negotiating with Pkistan? We must be able to insist that Pakistan gives up such obnoxious tactics before it expects us to talk on anything. Of course there is a possibility that General Yahya Khan is just wanting us to take a hard line in order to launch an adventure across the borders. For, has he not been replenishing his armaments, thanks to the generosity of both Moscow and Washington. But this eventuality should not deter us from reacting to the incident the way it deserves. We owe it to our honour to express our condemnation of Pindi’s action in a firm fashion.


Need For Re-Appraisal of Basic Policies


            Apart from these formal expressions of displeasure the prospect of a re-appraisal of our policies towards some of these Muslim states is also being mooted. It is significant that Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed himself demanded this. Yet in what manner should we go about in this regard deserves very careful consideration. One thing should on all counts be avoided. Any reaction in the shape of a sudden change in our basic policies, effecting these powers like our policy towards the West Asian problem might after all be interpreted as juvenile. For, much of our West Asian policy is basad on the inherent justice of the Arab cause, based, in particular, on the fundamental inequity of the West’s attempt at expiating its guilt towards the Jews at the expense of the Arabs. Hence a temptation for a change in this regard out of our pique should be resisted. Such temptation, it should be admitted, is bound to be greater in view of Jordan’s role at Rabat. There are certain areas in which we can make changes. At present, quite apart from supporting the Arab claims for the return of their territories and for Israel’s discharge of responsibility towards Palestinian refugees, we are moulding our Israeli policy on lines identical to those of the Arab countries. Now this can change. For example, why should we not start having a little more of intercourse with Israel? It does not necessarily mean any lessening of our commitment to the Arab cause. Further, not even President Nasser now seriously demands the liquidation of Israel, and why should we not take steps that normally follow when we recognize the existence of a State? In this connection it is to be hoped that the recent meeting of Mr. Dinesh Singh with Mr. Eban of Israel has some significance.