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May 21, 2008

Wikipedia: McMahon Line

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Coordinates: 29°10′N, 95°0′E

The McMahon Line is a demarcation line drawn on map attached to the Simla Convention, a treaty between Great Britain and Tibet and which was signed by Great Britain and Tibet in 1914. It is named after Sir Henry McMahon, foreign secretary for British India and the chief British negotiator of the convention. The line extends along the crest of the Himalayas for 550 miles from Bhutan in the west to the great bend of the Brahmaputra River in the east. It is approximately the same as the line of control that marks the boundary between territory controlled by India and territory controlled by China. The McMahon Line is regarded by India as a legal national border. The Central Tibetan Administration, the government-in-exile of the Dalai Lama, also concedes the line as the official border, while they seek shelter in India. “At that time the Tibetan government entered into and signed that agreement,” said Tashi Wangdi, the Representative of the Dalai Lama. “We can’t change. The McMahon Line is the international boundary and whatever falls on either side of that line is the territory of either India or, as of now, the People’s Republic of China (Tibet).”[1]

China and some observers[2][3] reject the Simla Convention on the grounds that the Tibetan government was not a sovereign government and therefore did not have sovereign external affairs powers, such as that to conclude treaties, as recognised in the Simla Convention itself. The British, who recognized Tibet as under Chinese suzerainty[4], admitted in 1915 that “The Simla Convention has not been signed by the Chinese Government or accepted by the Russian Government and is, therefore, for the present invalid”[5]. From 1921 onwards, they were periodically represented by a diplomatic officer at Lhasa, and were permanently so represented from the early-1930s[citation needed]. Chinese governments since the time of the treaty point out that neither the various Chinese governments nor any other sovereign government has recognized Lhasa’s 1913 declaration of independence. As a result, Chinese governments do not consider the McMahon Line to be a legal boundary. Chinese maps show some 56,000 square miles of territory south of the line as Chinese. China refers to this area as South Tibet while India calls it Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese forces briefly occupied this area during the Sino-Indian War of 1962-63. China recognizes a Line of Actual Control which includes the McMahon line, according to a 1959 diplomatic note by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.[6]

Contents

History

Drawing the line

British map published in 1909 showing the Indo-Tibetan traditional border (eastern section on the top right)

British map published in 1909 showing the Indo-Tibetan traditional border (eastern section on the top right)

Early British efforts to create a boundary in this sector were triggered by their discovery in the mid-19th century that Tawang, an important trading town, was Tibetan territory. In 1873, the British-run Government of India drew an “Outer Line,” intended as an international boundary.[7] This line follows the alignment of the Himalayan foothills, now the southern boundary of Arunachal Pradesh. Britain concluded treaties with Beijing concerning Tibet’s boundaries with Burma[8] and Sikkim[9]. However, Tibet refused to recognize the boundaries drawn by these treaties[citation needed]. British forces led by Sir Francis Younghusband invaded Tibet in 1904 and imposed a treaty on the Tibetans.[10][11] In 1907, Britain and Russia agreed that in “conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet”[12] both nations “engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government.”[12] Sovereignty rather than suzerainty is also disputed.

British interest in the borderlands was renewed when the Qing government sent military forces to establish Chinese administration in Tibet (1910-12). A British military expedition was sent into what is now Arunachal Pradesh and the North East Frontier Tract was created to administer the area (1912). In 1912-13, this agency reached agreements with the tribal leaders who ruled the bulk of the region. The Outer Line was moved north, but Tawang was left as Tibetan territory. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in China, Tibet expelled Chinese forces and declared itself independent (1913).[13] In 1913, British convoked a conference at Simla, India to discuss the issue of Tibet’s status.[14] The conference was attended by Plenipotentiary representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet.[15]. It drew up an agreement which divided Tibet into “Outer Tibet,” under the administration of the Dalai Lama’s government, and “Inner Tibet,” where Lhasa would have religious authority only. Both areas were considered to be under Chinese “suzerainty.”[15] A suzerain is a state which has certain authority over a dependent state. All three representatives initialed the agreement in April 1914.[7] Beijing objected to the proposed boundary between Inner and Outer Tibet and repudiated both the agreement and the initialing by its delegate.[16]

Britain attempts to enforce line

Simla was initially rejected by the Government of India as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention. However, this agreement (Anglo-Russian Convention) was renounced by Russia and Britain jointly in 1921.[1] The McMahon Line was forgotten until 1935, when interest was revived by civil service officer Olaf Caroe.[17] The Survey of India published a map showing the McMahon Line as the official boundary in 1937.[18][17] In 1938, the British finally published the Simla Convention as a bilateral accord. The earlier volume of C.U. Aitchison’s A Collection of Treaties, which had originally been published with a note stating that no binding agreement had been reached at Simla, was recalled from libraries.[19] This was done in part because Russia had finally given the nod to the treaty in 1921. It was replaced with a new volume that has a disputed 1929 publication date and includes Simla together with an editor’s note stating that Tibet and Britain, but not China, accepted the agreement as binding.[20]

When the British demanded that the Tawang monastery, located south of the McMahon Line, cease paying taxes to Lhasa, Tibet protested. However, Lhasa raised no objection to British activity in other sectors of the McMahon Line. In 1944, NEFT established direct administrative control for the entire area it was assigned, although Tibet soon regained authority in Tawang. In 1947, Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claim to Tibetan districts south of the McMahon Line.[21] In Beijing, the Communist Party came to power in 1949 and declared its intention to “liberate” Tibet. India, which had become independent in 1947, responded by declaring the McMahon Line to be its boundary and by decisively asserting control of the Tawang area (1950-51).[14]

India and China dispute boundary

In the 1950s, India-China relations were cordial and the boundary dispute quiet. The Indian government under Prime Minister Nehru promoted the slogan Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai. (India and China are brothers). In 1954, India renamed the disputed area the North East Frontier Agency.

India acknowledged that Tibet was a part of China in a treaty concluded in April 1954.[22] Nehru later claimed that because China did not bring up the border issue at the 1954 conference, the issue was settled. But the only border India had delineated prior to the conference was the McMahon Line. Several months after the conference, Nehru ordered maps of India published that showed expansive Indian territorial claims as definite boundaries, notably in Aksai Chin.[23] In the NEFA sector, the new maps gave the hill crest as the boundary, although in some places this line is slightly north of the McMahon Line.[6]

Occupation of Tibetian territory by China, climaxing in the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in March 1959, created a great deal of sympathy for Tibet in India and led Chinese leaders to suspect that Nehru had designs on the region. On August 26, 1959, Chinese troops captured an Indian outpost at Longju, just north of the McMahon Line. In a letter to Nehru dated October 24, 1959, Zhou Enlai proposed that India and China each withdraw their forces 20 kilometers from the “line of actual control.”[24] Shortly afterward, Zhou defined this line as “the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west”.[6]

In November 1961, Nehru adopted a “Forward Policy” of setting up military outposts in disputed areas, including 43 outposts north of Zhou’s LAC.[6] Chinese leader Mao Zedong, at this time weakened by the failure of the Great Leap Forward, saw war as a means of building up the public image of the army and of Defense Minister Lin Biao, a close ally.[25] On September 8, 1962, a Chinese unit attacked an Indian post at Dhola on the Thagla Ridge, three kilometers north of the McMahon Line.[14] On October 20, China launched a major attack across the McMahon as well as another attack further north. The Sino-Indian War which followed was a national humiliation for India, with China quickly gaining control of NEFA.[14] The Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain all pledged military aid to the Indians. China then withdrew to the McMahon Line and repatriated the Indian prisoners of war (1963). New Delhi attributes the retreat to the superiority of the Indian Air Force and logistical problems.

NEFA was renamed Arunachal Pradesh in 1972. (It gained statehood status in 1987.) In 1981, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping offered India a “package settlement” of the border issue. Eight rounds of talks followed, but no agreement.

In 1984, India Intelligence Bureau personnel set up an observation post in the Sumdorong Chu Valley, which was located north of the McMahon Line, but south of the hill crest. The IB left the area before winter. In 1986, China deployed troops in the valley before an Indian team arrived.[26][27] This information created a national uproar when it was revealed to the Indian public. In October 1986, Deng threatened to “teach India a lesson”. The Indian Army airlifted a task force to the valley. The confrontation was defused in May 1987 and the armies have since withdrawn.[28]

Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 and agreed to a joint working group on boundary issues, but it has made no progress. A 1993 Sino-Indian agreement set up a group to define the LAC, this group has likewise made no progress. A 1996 Sino-Indian agreement set up “confidence-building measures” to avoid border clashes. Although there were several tense encounters along the McMahon Line following India’s nuclear test in 1998, this agreement has generally been effective.

See also

  • Durand Line
  • Curzon Line
  • Radcliffe Line
  • Why China is playing hardball in Arunachal by Venkatesan Vembu, Daily News & Analysis, May 13, 2007

Further reading

  • A Chronology of Tibetan History
  • Why China is playing hardball in Arunachal by Venkatesan Vembu, Daily News & Analysis, May 13, 2007
  • Lamb, Alastair, The McMahon line: a study in the relations between In
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