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South Tibet (disputed territory)

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South Tibet
Region administered by India as part of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam
Map of South Tibet
Map of South Tibet
Coordinates (Itanagar): 27°04′N 93°22′E / 27.06°N 93.37°E / 27.06; 93.37Coordinates: 27°04′N 93°22′E / 27.06°N 93.37°E / 27.06; 93.37
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Administered by India
Claimed by China
Largest cityItanagar

South Tibet is a term used by the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China to refer to a region administered by India as part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of Assam. Located at south of the McMahon Line, South Tibet is claimed by both the PRC and the ROC.


In 1913–14, representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet attended a conference in Simla, India and drew up an agreement concerning Tibet's status and borders. The McMahon Line, a proposed boundary between Tibet and India for the eastern sector, was drawn by British negotiator Henry McMahon on a map attached to the agreement. All three representatives initialled the agreement, but Beijing soon objected to the proposed Sino-Tibet boundary and repudiated the agreement, refusing to sign the final, more detailed map. After approving a note which stated that China could not enjoy rights under the agreement unless she ratified it, the British and Tibetan negotiators signed the Simla Convention and more detailed map as a bilateral accord. Neville Maxwell states that McMahon had been instructed not to sign bilaterally with Tibetans if China refused, but he did so without the Chinese representative present and then kept the declaration secret.[1]

V. K. Singh argues that the basis of these boundaries, accepted by British India and Tibet, were that the historical boundaries of India were the Himalayas and the areas south of the Himalayas were traditionally Indian and associated with India. The high watershed of the Himalayas was proposed as the border between India and its northern neighbours. India's government held the view that the Himalayas were the ancient boundaries of the Indian subcontinent and thus should be the modern boundaries of British India and later the Republic of India.[2]

Chinese boundary markers, including one set up by the newly created Chinese Republic, stood near Walong until January 1914, when T. O'Callaghan, an assistant administrator of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA)'s eastern sector, relocated them north to locations closer to the McMahon Line (albeit still South of the Line). He then went to Rima, met with Tibetan officials, and saw no Chinese influence in the area.[3]

By signing the Simla Agreement with Tibet, the British had violated the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, in which both parties were not to negotiate with Tibet, "except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government", as well as the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906, which bound the British government "not to annex Tibetan territory."[4] Because of doubts concerning the legal status of the accord, the British did not put the McMahon Line on their maps until 1937, nor did they publish the Simla Convention in the treaty record until 1938. Rejecting Tibet's 1913 declaration of independence, China argued that the Simla Convention and McMahon Line were illegal and that Tibetan government was merely a local government without treaty-making powers.[1]

The British records show that the Tibetan government's acceptance of the new border in 1914 was conditional on China accepting the Simla Convention. Since the British were not able to get an acceptance from China, Tibetans considered the McMahon line invalid.[5] Tibetan officials continued to administer Tawang and refused to concede territory during negotiations in 1938. The governor of Assam asserted that Tawang was "undoubtedly British" but noted that it was "controlled by Tibet, and none of its inhabitants have any idea that they are not Tibetan." During World War II, with India's east threatened by Japanese troops and with the threat of Chinese expansionism, British troops secured Tawang for extra defence.[3]

During and after the 1950s, when India began patrolling this area and mapping in greater detail, they confirmed what the 1914 Simla agreement map depicted: six river crossings that interrupted the main Himalayan watershed ridge. At the westernmost location near Bhutan north of Tawang, they modified their maps to extend their claim line northwards to include features such as Thag La ridge, Longju, and Khinzemane as Indian territory.[1] Thus, the Indian version of the McMahon Line moves the Bhutan-China-India trijunction north to 27°51’30"N from 27°45’40"N.[1] India would claim that the treaty map ran along features such as Thag La ridge, though the actual treaty map itself is topographically vague (as the treaty was not accompanied with demarcation) in places, shows a straight line (not a watershed ridge) near Bhutan and near Thag La, and the treaty includes no verbal description of geographic features nor description of the highest ridges.[1][6]

In 1984, India Intelligence Bureau personnel in the Tawang region set up an observation post in the Sumdorong Chu Valley just south of the highest hill crest, but three kilometres north of the McMahon Line (the straight line portion extending east from Bhutan for 30 miles). The IB left the area before winter. In 1986, China deployed troops in the valley before an Indian team arrived.[7][8] 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 though, as clearly visible on Google Earth, both armies have remained and recent construction of roads and facilities are visible.[9]

Current status[edit]

China's claim on areas south of the McMahon Line, encompassed in Arunachal Pradesh, is based on the traditional boundaries. India believes that the boundaries China proposed in Arunachal Pradesh have no written basis and no documentation of acceptance by anyone apart from China. The Indian government has argued that China claims the territory on the basis that it was under Chinese imperial control in the past,[2] while the Chinese government argues that India claims the territory on the basis that it was under British imperial control in the past.[10] The last Qing emperor's 1912 edict of abdication authorised its succeeding republican government to form a union of "five peoples, namely, Manchus, Han Chinese, Mongols, Muslims, and Tibetans together with their territory in its integrity."[11] However, the practice that India does not place a claim to the regions which previously had the presence of the Mauryan Empire and Chola Dynasty, but which were heavily influenced by Indian culture, further complicates the issue.[2]

India's claim line in the eastern sector follows its interpretation of the McMahon Line. The line drawn by McMahon on the detailed 24–25 March 1914 Simla Treaty maps clearly starts at 27°45’40"N, a trijunction between Bhutan, China, and India, and from there, extends eastwards.[1] Most of the fighting in the eastern sector before the start of the war would take place immediately north of this line.[3][12] However, India claimed that the intent of the treaty was to follow the main watershed ridge divide of the Himalayas based on memos from McMahon and the fact that over 90% of the McMahon Line does in fact follow the main watershed ridge divide of the Himalayas. They claimed that territory south of the high ridges here near Bhutan (as elsewhere along most of the McMahon Line) should be Indian territory and north of the high ridges should be Chinese territory. In the Indian claim, the two armies would be separated from each other by the highest mountains in the world.

See also[edit]

  • Aksai Chin
  • List of disputed territories of India


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Maxwell, Neville (1970). India's China War. Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-394-47051-1. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 V. K. Singh, Resolving the boundary dispute, india-seminar.com. Archived 18 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Calvin, James Barnard (April 1984). "The China-India Border War". Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Archived from the original on 11 November 2011. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  4. Karunakar Gupta. The McMahon Line 1911–45: The British Legacy, The China Quarterly, No. 47. (Jul. – Sep. 1971), pp. 521–545. JSTOR 652324
  5. Tsering Shakya (1999). The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947. Columbia University Press. pp. 279–. ISBN 978-0-231-11814-9. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 31 March 2017. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help) Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  6. T. S. Murty & Neville Maxwell, Tawang and "The Un-Negotiated Dispute" The China Quarterly, No. 46. (Apr. – Jun. 1971), pp. 357–362. Archived 8 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. Vajpayee claps with one hand on border dispute, Asia Times Online, 1 August 2003
  8. A.G. Noorani, "Perseverance in peace process", India's National Magazine, 29 August 2003.
  9. Natarajan, V., "The Sumdorong Chu Incident" Archived 18 January 2013 at Archive.today, Bharat Rakshak Monitor, Nov.-Dec. 2000, 3 (3)
  10. Arthur A. Stahnke. "The Place of International Law in Chinese Strategy and Tactics: The Case of the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute", The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 30, No. 1, Nov 1970. pg. 95–119
  11. Qing Dynasty Edict of Abdication, translated by Bertram Lenox Putnam Weale, The Fight for the Republic in China, London: Hurst & Blackett, Ltd. Paternoster House, E.C. 1918. – Emphasis added, "Muslims" rendered as "Mohammedans" in original translation
  12. A.G. Noorani, "Perseverance in peace process". Frontline, 29 August 2003. Archived 26 March 2005 at the Wayback Machine

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