Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Validity of the McMahon Line agreement (1914)

Recently the Chinese have used people like Neville Maxwell to renew their claim on Tawang area.
In a paper (Whose Tawang? A Dispute Within the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute) published in China, Maxwell, the author of  India’s China War expounds the Chinese line.
However, he forgets to deal on the 'legality' of the McMahon L:ine, which was a valid agreement signed in 1914 between the Government of Tibet and the Government of India.
The Chinese Plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen was then fully aware of the Agreement and did not object to it.
I am posting here an historical document which is extracted of Report of the Officials of the Governments of India and the Peoples’ Republic of China on the Boundary Question (see my previous post on the subject).
It clarifies the validity of the Agreement and the legal status of the boundary in the Eastern Sector.

Report of the Officials of the Governments of India and the Peoples’ Republic of China on the Boundary Question (Extracts)
The Indian side [led by Shri J. S. Mehta, Director, China Division, Ministry of External Affairs and Dr. S. Gopal, Director, Historical Division, Ministry of External Affairs] also established beyond doubt that the traditional boundary in the Eastern Sector had been formalized in 1914 by an exchange of letters between India and Tibet. At that time, Tibet had enjoyed the power to sign treaties and to deal directly with neighbouring States on matters regarding the boundary. The Chinese Government had recognised these rights enjoyed by Tibet and had been aware of this formalization of the Indo-Tibetan boundary at the Simla Conference.
The Indian side had made it clear that, they were reluctant to discuss the history of the relations between China and Tibet and had only considered it in their initial statements to the extent that it was relevant to the exchange of letters formalizing the boundary in 1914.
Unable to establish that the agreement was void, the Chinese side [led by Mr. Chang Wen-chin, Director, First Asian Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Yang Kung-su, Director, Tibet Bureau of Foreign Affairs]endeavoured to set it aside by assertions which were not historically correct and by the most serious and unwarranted allegations against the Government of India. It was, for instance, repeatedly alleged that India was seeking to defend British Imperialist policy and to benefit from British aggression in Tibet; and it was sought to convey the impression that the Indian side regarded Tibet as an independent country. The Indian side could not but emphatically repudiate these most objectionable distortions of the well-known and clearly established policies of the Government of India. It had been clearly recognised by the Government of India and had been repeated innumerable times in these discussions, that Tibet was an autonomous region of China; and independent India had always dealt with the Central Government of China on matters pertaining to Tibet. The very fact that these talks pertaining to the boundary of India with, for the most part, Tibet, were being held with the representatives of the Chinese Central Government, was a clear indication of India's acceptance that the Chinese Government were responsible for all external affairs relating to Tibet. It was even categorically and explicitly stated by the Indian side that India did not regard Tibet as independent.
But the present status and powers of Tibet could obviously not be projected backwards or allowed to influence one's understanding of the nature of the relations subsisting between China and Tibet in 1914. That during the 300 years prior to 1950, Tibet, whatever her status, had enjoyed the right to sign treaties and have direct dealings with her neighbours on boundary questions, was clearly established by history. The Indian side had already drawn attention to the treaties of 1684 and 1842 signed by Tibet with Ladakh. In 1856, she signed a treaty with Nepal, and the People's Government of China themselves recognised the validity of this treaty, because they felt it necessary to abrogate it in their treaty, signed exactly a hundred years later, in 1956 with the Nepal Government. It was asserted by the Chinese side that the Chinese Amban in Tibet had assisted in the conclusion of the 1856 treaty. This, too, was an incorrect statement of facts; but even if true, it would only corroborate the Indian position that China recognised the treaty-making powers of Tibet. For it would mean that China assisted Tibet in directly negotiating a treaty which, among other things, granted extra-territorial rights to Nepal. The Tibetan Government protested against the conclusion of the 1890 Convention by Britain and China and successfully defied its implementation because they had not been a party to it. It, therefore, became necessary for Britain to sign an agreement with Tibet in 1904. Far from objecting to such direct negotiations by Tibet, the Chinese Amban in Lhasa assisted in its conclusion and two years later the Chinese Central Government confirmed it in their Convention with Britain. It may be noted that the 1906 Convention concluded in Peking did not suggest that the 1904 Convention was invalid, or merely repeat its provisions but specifically recognised it.
Furthermore, it was a fact of history — and the officials at these meetings were only concerned with an objective scrutiny of the facts of history — that after the 1911 revolution Tibet had issued a declaration of independence. The Indian side themselves had drawn attention to the fact that even the British Government at that time had not acknowledged this declaration. But the fact remained that whatever the theoretical conception of Chinese relations with Tibet, all working relations between the two seem to have been practically terminated. Not a single item of evidence was brought forward by the Chinese side from either the Chinese or the Tibetan archives that could suggest that this statement was incorrect. The then Central Government of China, eager to re-establish their connections with Tibet, agreed to attend the tripartite Simla Conference and designated a plenipotentiary to attend "jointly" with the Tibetan plenipotentiary and to negotiate with him and the British Indian representative on terms of equality. The Chinese Government conferred full powers on their representative and, what was even more significant, accepted without any reservation the credentials of the Tibetan representative which vested him with full powers in the name of the Dalai Lama and authorised him to function as an equal plenipotentiary with those of China and India and settle all matters pertaining to Tibet. Thus it was the Chinese Government of the time which accepted a procedure which under diplomatic usage, is normally adopted only at international conferences of the representatives of sovereign countries.
The fact that the Chinese Plenipotentiary did not sign the tripartite agreement which he had initialled did not in any way invalidate the agreement signed by the British and the Tibetan representatives.
All Chinese reservations to the Simla Convention, as stated at the time of the Conference and subsequently in 1919, were merely regarding the boundaries of Inner Tibet and Outer Tibet. There was never any objection, or indeed any comment of any kind, regarding that part of the boundary shown on the Convention Map between India and Tibet and formalized in the exchange of letters between the Indian and the Tibetan representatives.
The Chinese side sought to suggest that the Chinese Plenipotentiary had been unaware of the direct dealings and the Agreement concluded between the Tibetan and the British Indian Plenipotentiaries. There was no reason why the formal exchange of letters between the Indian and the Tibetan representatives should have been shown to the Chinese representative. In fact, all the Tibetan documents which have now been quoted by the Chinese side as supporting their alignment were not known, at the time they were written, to the Chinese Government. They knew nothing at the time, for example, of the negotiations regarding Dokpo Karpo in the Western Sector in 1924, and those regarding Nilang-Jadbang in the Middle Sector in 1926. However, far from regarding these ''secret'' documents of the Tibetan Government as invalid, they have now based their claim on them.
But in fact there is no doubt that the Chinese representative and -the Chinese Government were aware of the formalization of the Indo-Tibetan boundary in 1914. The substance of the agreement was mentioned at the tripartite conference; there was a general reference to it in the Simla Convention itself; and it was shown on the map presented to the conference in April 1914 and attached to the Convention in July 1914. The areas south of the red line in the Eastern Sector on this Convention Map could not be explained in any other way except by recognising that they constituted Indian territory. The Convention was published in the first edition of Aitchison's Treaties, Engagements and Sanads to be, issued after the Simla Conference.
Apart from these facts, the whole array of argument and evidence furnished by the Chinese side during these very discussion fully proved, if anything, that Tibet at that time had enjoyed treaty making powers and the right of direct dealings with neighbour States. These entire evidence produced by the Chinese side showed Tibet functioning all along her border without Chinese presence or support. In quoting such Tibetan actions with approval, and bringing forward such evidence of Tibetan activity the Chinese side confirmed the legality of Tibet's powers to negotiate and conclude treaties. In all inter-governmental talks between India and Tibet as at Dokpo Karpo, Barahoti and Nilang-Jadhang, no representative of the Chinese Central Government had been present. The representatives of the Government of Lhasa had dealt with representatives of the Central Government of India, who had been supported by officials of local Governments. There was no question, therefore, of these discussions having been conducted on a purely local levels and the fact that on the Tibetan side there had been no Chinese representation or any Chinese authority and, at any time, even a semblance of interest on the part of the Chinese Central Government, proved the Tibetan right to deal directly with the Government of India. The Chinese side were, therefore, unable to escape from the dilemma that to dispute the powers of Tibet to have direct dealings with India to confirm the traditional boundary in the Eastern Sector was to jettison all their evidence for the Eastern and Middle Sectors and almost all their evidence for the Western Sector. For the overwhelming majority of the records and documents quoted by the Chinese side were from Tibetan, and hardly any from Chinese sources. Indeed, the documents cited by the Chinese side referred throughout to a Tibetan Government. It was obviously, even according to the Chinese evidence, much more than a merely local authority or a provincial administration.
The Chinese side sought to argue that as the negotiations were "resultless" they could not prove Tibet's negotiating powers. It hardly requires to be stated that success or failure has no bearing on this point; but if the failure of these negotiations negated their legality then the Chinese side themselves were precluded from quoting them as evidence in other contexts.
The Indian side also mentioned, in this connection, that the Chinese side had referred to a non-aggression treaty having been concluded in 1853 by the then Government of India and the Regent of Tibet. There was, in fact, no such treaty and what the Chinese side had in mind was discovered to be an administrative arrangement between the Monba chiefs and the British Indian Government. But the Chinese contention was obviously based on the premise that the Tibetan authorities had the right to make peace and war and to conclude treaties of non-aggression. It was clearly illogical in the face of this to contend that a Tibetan Government with such ample treaty-making powers could not formalize an existing traditional boundary.
To place the matter beyond all possible doubt, the Indian side cited a note formally presented by the Government of China in November 1947, enquiring whether after the transfer of power the Government of India had assumed the treaty rights and obligations existing till then between India and Tibet. In their reply of February 1948, the Government of India formally informed the Chinese Government that they had assumed these treaty rights and obligations. The reference in this exchange to the treaty rights and obligations between India and Tibet, as distinct from those between India and China, was the strongest possible proof both of the validity of the "McMahon Line" agreement and of its recognition by the Chinese Government. The Indian side also brought forward documents to show that for many years after the establishment of the authority of the People's Government in Tibet, the Tibetan authorities had accepted the traditional international alignment in this sector.
Nowhere, in fact, as in its disputation of the validity of the so-called McMahon Line was the Chinese position so replete with contradictions. To mention but a few, the Chinese side throughout quoted with approval Tibetan negotiations on certain segments of the traditional alignment in the Western and Middle Sectors, but when confronted with the implications of this position they denied Tibet the right to confirm the traditional boundary in the Eastern Sector. They asserted that Tibet had no treaty-making powers but claimed that she had signed a treaty of non-aggression. Similarly Tibet, with no treaty-making powers, had signed an agreement conferring extra-territorial rights on Nepal which the People's Government had found necessary to abrogate. The Chinese side asserted that the Convention of 1904 between Britain and Tibet was invalid, though it had been negotiated with the assistance of the Chinese officials, and had been referred to with approval in the Convention signed between Britain and China in 1906. They argued that China had never recognised the treaty-making powers of Tibet but could not explain why the suzerain Chinese Government of 1914 had accepted the equal and plenipotentiary status of the Tibetan representative and had participated with Tibet in a tripartite conference in India. They argued that the red line in this sector on the Simla Convention Map was the boundary between Tibet and China but brought forward evidence which was said to show that the area south of this line had belonged traditionally to Tibet. The "McMahon Line" Agreement was described as a result of a secret imperialist intrigue and Tibet was said to have been coerced into signing it; but the fact remains that as late as 1943, Tibet successfully defied the combined pressure of the Chinese Central and British Governments to secure the use of Tibetan territory as a supply route for the defence of China.
This maze of contradictions makes it impossible even to comprehend the Chinese stand, much less to find evidence to sustain the Chinese claim. It needs to be stated clearly that the treaty-making powers of Tibet and in particular her formalization of the "McMahon Line" were acknowledged by the Chinese Central Government of the time; and it was profitless to distort the present position of the Government of India and the statements of the Indian side in a vain attempt to repudiate the confirmation of the traditional boundary. For it was conclusively established from every angle of law and history that the "McMahon Line" agreement which confirmed the traditional boundary in the Eastern Sector was a valid Agreement which had been signed by Tibet and was now binding on China.
Indeed, the Indian position regarding the' "McMahon Line" agreement found corroboration also from the documents and agreements cited by the Chinese side. Even the recently concluded Sino-Burmese Agreement which acknowledges that the Burma Sector of the "McMahon Line" was the traditional boundary between China and Burma was telling circumstantial proof that in the Indian Sector also it had obviously confirmed the traditional boundary.
The Indian side were most surprised at the statement of the Chinese side that they distinguished between the actions of past Chinese Governments, accepted what suited them and rejected what was not in consonance with the present Chinese attitude and claims. This was obviously an extraordinary position to adopt and unsettled all relations between Governments. It was an accepted principle of international law that all past commitments of previous governments were binding on successor governments, at least until they had been re-negotiated. The whole purpose and value of the assignment given to the officials would be undermined if either side refused to accept all the facts of history, regardless of past motives and present claims, but accepted only such evidence as confirmed their contentions and repudiated those facts which destroyed them.

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