Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

What is the McMahon Line?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: McMahon Line

Mains level: Not Much


Central idea: Republican and Democrat senators introduced a resolution in US Congress reiterating that the US recognises the McMahon Line as the international boundary between China and India in Arunachal Pradesh.

Significance of such move

  • This resolute confirms US (both ruling and opposition) stand with India at a time when China poses a threat to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
  • The resolution reaffirms India’s position that Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls ‘South Tibet’, is an integral part of India.

What is the McMahon Line?

  • The McMahon Line serves as the de facto boundary between China and India in the Eastern Sector and represents the boundary between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet.
  • China disputes the boundary and claims the state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

Under what circumstances was the McMahon Line drawn?

  • The McMahon Line was drawn during the Simla Convention of 1914, officially described as the Convention between Great Britain, China, and Tibet.
  • The British led an expedition into Tibet and signed the Convention of Lhasa in 1904, alarmed at the growing Russian influence in the region.
  • China invaded at the same time, taking control of the southeastern Kham region and pushing British officials to advocate extending British jurisdiction into the tribal territory.
  • The convention attempted to settle the question of Tibet’s sovereignty and avoid further territorial disputes in the region.

What happened at the Simla Convention of 1913-14?

  • The Tibetan government in Lhasa was represented by its plenipotentiary Paljor Dorje Shatra, and Britain by Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, foreign secretary of British India at Delhi.
  • The Chinese plenipotentiary was Ivan Chen.
  • The treaty divided the Buddhist region into “Outer Tibet” and “Inner Tibet” and determined the border between China proper and Tibet as well as Tibet and British India.
  • The final convention was only signed by McMahon on behalf of the British government and Shatra on behalf of Lhasa.
  • Ivan Chen did not consent to the convention, arguing that Tibet had no independent authority to enter into international agreements.

How was the border between British India and China decided?

  • The 890-km border from the corner of Bhutan to the Isu Razi Pass on the Burma border was drawn largely along the crest of the Himalayas, following the “highest watershed principle”.
  • However, exceptions were made, such as Tawang, which was included in British India due to its proximity to the Assam Valley.

What has the status of the McMahon line been since 1914?

  • While there were disputes regarding the McMahon line from the beginning, after the communists took power in 1949, they pulled China out of all international agreements.
  • The McMahon line was not mentioned during the Bandung Conference of 1955, which was held in Indonesia and saw Asian and African leaders agree to a common stand against colonialism and the Cold War.
  • However, the Chinese have recently raised the issue of the McMahon line, and in 2017, Beijing officially renamed six places in the Arunachal Pradesh region, including the disputed area of Tawang.

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