Tibet (1912–1951) - The Simla Convention of 1914

The Simla Convention of 1914

In 1913-14, a conference was held in Simla between Britain, Tibet, and the Republic of China. The British suggested dividing Tibetan-inhabited areas into an Outer and an Inner Tibet (on the model of an earlier agreement between China and Russia over Mongolia). Outer Tibet, approximately the same area as the modern Tibet Autonomous Region, would be autonomous under Chinese suzerainty. In this area, China would refrain from "interference in the administration." In Inner Tibet, consisting of eastern Kham and Amdo, Lhasa would retain control of religious matters only. In 1908-18, there was a Chinese garrison in Kham and the local princes were subordinate to its commander.

When negotiations broke down over the specific boundary between Inner and Outer Tibet, the British chief negotiator Henry McMahon drew what has become known as the McMahon Line to delineate the Tibet-India border, amounting to the British annexation of 9,000 square kilometers of traditional Tibetan territory in southern Tibet, namely the Tawang district, which corresponds to the northwest extremity of the modern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, while recognizing Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and affirming the latter's status as part of Chinese territory, with a promise from the Government of China that Tibet would not be converted into a Chinese province.

Later Chinese governments claimed this McMahon Line illegitimately transferred a vast amount of territory to India. The disputed territory is called Arunachal Pradesh by India and South Tibet by China. The British had already concluded agreements with local tribal leaders and set up the Northeast Frontier Tract to administer the area in 1912.

The Simla Convention was initialed by all three delegations, but was immediately rejected by Beijing because of dissatisfaction with the way the boundary between Outer and Inner Tibet was drawn. McMahon and the Tibetans then signed the document as a bilateral accord with a note attached denying China any of the rights it specified unless it signed. The British-run Government of India initially rejected McMahon's bilateral accord as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.

The McMahon Line was considered by the British and later the independent Indian government to be the boundary; however, the Chinese view since then has been that since China, which claimed sovereignty over Tibet, did not sign the treaty, the treaty was meaningless, and the annexation and control of parts of Arunachal Pradesh by India is illegal. This paved the way to the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the boundary dispute between China and India that persists today.

In 1938, the British finally published the Simla Convention as a bilateral accord and demanded that the Tawang monastery, located south of the McMahon Line, cease paying taxes to Lhasa. Hsiao-Ting Lin claims that a volume of C.U. Aitchison's A Collection of Treaties, originally published with a note stating that no binding agreement had been reached at Simla, was recalled from libraries and replaced with a new volume that has a false 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.

The 1907 Anglo-Russian Treaty, which had earlier caused the British to question the validity of Simla, had been renounced by the Russians in 1917 and by the Russians and British jointly in 1921. Tibet, however, altered its position on the McMahon Line in the 1940s. In late 1947, the Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the newly independent Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claims to Tibetan districts south of the McMahon Line. Furthermore, by refusing to sign the Simla documents, the Chinese Government had escaped according any recognition to the validity of the McMahon Line.

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