Recognition of McMahon Line by the US to mark boundary between India & China

What is McMahon Line?

  • The McMahon Line, named after British colonial officer Henry McMahon, is a disputed boundary between India and China that runs through the eastern Himalayas.
  • The line was established in a 1914 treaty between the British Empire and Tibet, which was then an independent country. China, however, does not recognize the McMahon Line and considers it a relic of British colonialism.
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Right hand palm theory of China

  • Firstly, it is important to understand the history of the McMahon Line and the dispute surrounding it. When the treaty was signed in 1914, the Chinese government was not consulted, and it has since claimed that the treaty was invalid. China maintains that Tibet was a part of China at the time and that the McMahon Line was never recognized by the Chinese government.
  • The McMahon Line became the de facto boundary between India and China after India gained independence from Britain in 1947.
  • China, under the leadership of Mao Zedong considered Tibet to be the right hand’s palm of China with Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) as its five fingers.
  • It therefore was China’s responsibility to “liberate” these regions believed Mao. 
  • After annexation of Tibet it was widely expected that China may attempt to liberate these regions but global outcry against Tibet’s annexation forced Mao to distance himself temporarily from the idea
  • However, in 1962, China launched a surprise attack on India along the McMahon Line, resulting in a brief but intense war that ended with China’s victory. Since then, there have been occasional flare-ups along the border, including a deadly clash in 2020 that led to the deaths of several Indian and Chinese soldiers.
  • India and China have engaged in several rounds of talks over the years to resolve the border dispute, but progress has been slow. Meanwhile, the US has increasingly taken an interest in the region, viewing China’s growing influence and assertiveness as a threat to its strategic interests.

Recognition of McMahon Line by the US

  • Recently, there has been much discussion about the recognition of the McMahon Line as the official boundary between India and China by the United States.
  • The move, if it were to happen, would have significant geopolitical implications for the region.
  • The US recognizing the McMahon Line as the official boundary between India and China would be a significant diplomatic move, one that would have implications for the entire region. It would signal US support for India and its territorial claims, which could embolden India in its dealings with China. It could also encourage other countries in the region, such as Japan and Australia, to take a stronger stance against China’s assertiveness.
  • However, such a move would undoubtedly be met with strong opposition from China, which views any recognition of the McMahon Line as a violation of its territorial integrity.
  • China has already warned against any such move by the US, stating that it would harm bilateral relations between the two countries.

India-China Border Dispute

  • India shares a 3488-km boundary with China along J&K, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim & Arunachal Pradesh. 
  • Border between India and China is not demarcated throughout and there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). 
  • Entire border is divided into three sectors: Western sector is disputed (Ladakh); Middle sector is largely settled and peaceful (Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand) and Eastern sector is unsettled and disputed (China claims entire Arunachal). 
  • China claims that the border claimed by India as signed by British India and Tibet was under colonial pressure and a weak China. China does not agree. 
  • British India had failed to produce a single integrated and well-defined northern boundary separating the Indian subcontinent from Xinjiang and Tibet. 

Western Sector 

Western sector i.e., Aksai Chin Sector 

  • The two sides differ over boundary line that separates Ladakh region from Xinjiang province of China. 
  • India accuses China of illegally occupying Aksai Chin and some other parts of Ladakh region. China sees Aksai Chin as extension of Tibet plateau whereas India claims it is an extension of Ladakh plateau. The region is mostly uninhabited. 
  • Aksai Chin is important for China as it connects two backward provinces of China i.e., Tibet and Xinjiang. 
  • British Johnson Line where Aksai Chin was part of Kashmir another advocated McDonald line under which Aksai Chin falls under Xinjiang Province of China. 
  • As a result, disagreement prevails with India claiming Johnson Line to be correct and China claiming McDonald Line to be correct. 
  • In the official map of India of 1950, India marked east of Karakoram range as “boundary undefined”.
  • Currently, LAC at present separates India and China in the absence of a mutually agreed boundary, there is a difference in perceptions about the alignment of the line. 

Eastern Sector: McMahon Line 

  • In eastern sector, boundary was delineated in 1914 Shimla conference of British India, China and Tibet. 
  • British proposed formation of Outer Tibet bordering India & Inner-Tibet bordering China. 
  • A boundary demarcating Tibetan region of China and the North-east Frontier Areas of India (current Arunachal Pradesh) was agreed upon by British and Tibetan representatives which came to be called McMahon Line. 
  • China does not recognize McMahon line as it was signed between British and Tibet which was not a sovereign state at the time. 
  • As a result, China claims Arunachal Pradesh especially Tawang as part of Tibet. 
  • India on its part while recognizes Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and considers McMahon line to be the official boundary.

In conclusion, the recognition of the McMahon Line by the US as the official boundary between India and China would be a significant development in the ongoing border dispute between the two countries. While it would provide India with diplomatic support, it could also escalate tensions with China, which has already warned against such a move. Ultimately, a peaceful resolution to the border dispute remains the best outcome for all parties involved.

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