[MA XUEJING/CHINA DAILY]
In his book, The Long Game, How the Chinese Negotiate with India, recently published by Penguin, Vijay Gokhale, ex-foreign secretary of India, deliberately distorts the McMahon Line, the status of Tibet, the Simla Convention and so on. For example, in his book, Goklale once again claims China has "suzerainty" over Tibet, the Simla Convention "delineated" a boundary line between "Outer Tibet" and British India, and the People's Liberation Army "invaded" Tibet in 1950, which seriously twists the real history. Hence, I will show some unknown historical facts about the McMahon Line on the basis of original British archives.
First, the McMahon Line was a result of the British imperialist expansion strategy of the "Scientific Frontier". British imperialists issued the expansion strategy in the 19th century, which was to forward the traditional Indian border running along with the plains of the Indus River and Ganges River to a further place that could strategically and militarily secure British India colony better in the context of "the Great Game" between Britain and Russia. With this motive, the British authorities in India launched the Great Trigonometrical Survey, "Divide and Rule", "Paramountcy System" and "Forward Policy" to set up three defensive lines for the British colony: an inner line, an outer line and a series of buffer zones. The inner line was British India's administration line and the other two were set up in other countries. The British authorities in India met big trouble in Assam following sending troops to seize Myanmar's land via the Anglo-Myanmar wars, then it changed its forward policy as map expansion without sending troops to annex territory or disturb the local people, because it mainly aimed to get a defensive line on the map to prevent Russia far from British India. For this purpose, the British unilaterally drew the McMahon Line (Referring to "Report on the Chinese Frontier of India", by Archibald Rose, FO 371/84262, Adam Matthew Digital), in the same way they unilaterally drew the Johnson Line and the Macartney-MacDonald Line in the past. Through these expansion methods, British imperialists ultimately created the huge British Indian Empire on the map composed of British India, the Princely States and tribal areas with tactics of direct rule, indirect rule and no rule respectively.
Second, the British conspired the Simla Conference with the excuse of discussing Tibet's status while actually treating Tibet as part of China. The McMahon Line has been contrived out in 1911 by Archibald Rose, the advisor to Sir Henry McMahon, the British plenipotentiary, at the Simla Conference held between October 1913 and July 1914 with the excuse to discuss the issue of Tibet's status. However, British archives record that Rose treated Tibet as one part of the Chinese Empire while he drafted the McMahon Line. Thus, the British plotted the Simla Convention with two plans. Plan A was to force the Chinese representative to sign a map; Plan B was to sign another map with the representative of the local Tibetan government secretly, and neither map labels "British India". The British representative first tried Plan A, which made reference to a small map with very little detail that primarily showed lines separating China from "Inner Tibet" and "Inner Tibet" from "Outer Tibet", but covertly embodied the McMahon Line into a new border of the South Tibet region. If the Chinese representative Chen Yifan had signed it, the British would have achieved the aim to seize China's South Tibet region, which covers the area lying south of the McMahon Line and north of the Sino-Indian traditional customary line. When the Chinese representative refused to sign the map, the British representative turned to Plan B, in which British representative signed the McMahon Line map with the representative of the local Tibetan government at Delhi in July 1914 under the condition that China must accept the Simla Convention before the local Tibetan government accepted the new border. As Britain failed to get China's acceptance, the local Tibetan government also rejected the McMahon Line.
Third, the Chinese government has never accepted the McMahon Line, and the British authorities knew it was invalid. After China rejected the McMahon Line, the British authorities knew well it was invalid, so the British government in India initially rejected it as well, and the line was forgotten until 1935 when London decided to separate Myanmar from the British Indian Empire, since the line concerned the Myanmar's border. The British government in India cunningly opened the line in a map of China's Tibet region in 1936, and then in 1938 revised Aitchison's A Collection of Treaties concerning the Simla Convention, meanwhile, it sent small force to seize the land, but met serious protest from the local authorities of China's Tibet region. Hence, although British imperialists contrived this line, for quite a long time afterward they dared not intrude into the South Tibet region. As Britain instructed India in 1950: even though the McMahon Line was a result of the Simla Convention, it was repudiated by the Chinese, apart from the absence of Chinese recognition of it. The difficulties also arose from the omission for the government of India to take any steps to administer the forward area. It is evident that the McMahon Line is no more than an illegal line left by British imperialist expansion.
Fourth, the British did not transfer the McMahon Line legacy to the new government of India. India claims its right over the McMahon Line with the justification that it legally inherited since its independence. However, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 stipulated in detail how Britain transferred its power in British India to the Dominions of India and Pakistan, and briefly announced the lapse of its suzerainty over the Princely States, and the lapse of any treaties or agreements concerning the tribal areas. British archives record that the map of the British Indian Empire in 1947 covered three parts of territories, namely British India, the Princely States and tribal areas, but Britain only had right to handle the territory of British India, which the British ruled directly and owned sovereignty over; as for the Princely States, Britain owned suzerainty, and the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan outlined their future status; as for the tribal areas, they were the results of the McMahon Line etc. It would be better for Britain to leave it to the stakeholders. The UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee reported the withdrawal policy to the UK Parliament in June 1947, orally suggested the Princely States might join India Dominion or Pakistan Dominion according to their will or geophysical conditions. However, he tried to avoid mentioning the tribal areas generated by the McMahon Line (Referring to "Indian Policy", presented by the Prime Minister to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, June 1947, top secret, PREM 8/541/10, the National Archives of UK). The tribal areas generated by the McMahon Line are within China's South Tibet region.
In a nutshell, the MacMahon Line is illegal and invalid, and has never been accepted by the Chinese government. By basing his argument on a false claim, Gokhale can never draw a correct and convincing conclusion on the China-India boundary question.
(Yao YuanMei an associate professor of the Academy of History and Documentation of Socialism at the East China Normal University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of this platform.)