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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Doklam trouble ~ Indo China border - Lord Lansdowne and treaty of 1890 !

While the world's attention continues to focus on a combination of Brexit, U.S. domestic politics and North Korea, the news from the Himalayas remains tense. Maybe the mere thought that China and India might actually be going to war still seems implausible to many outside the region, but the obvious diplomatic routes out of the Doklam standoff are closing fast. Just last week an absurdly racist video broadcast on Chinese state television revealed–if anything–a casual disregard for the dangers of treating large, powerful states as a kind of roadkill on China's rapid rise.

Well, people like me (us) may never understand Foreign relations, military strategies and more ~ we are often steered by the media view points.  A war is never good for anybody – it is no longer the days of invasion, foreign occupation and plundering – modern War is more about strategy, World relations, gadgets, technology, arms and ammunition, geographical supremacy, support of neighbouring and other powerful countries.  To begin with,  the Indo-China stand-off at Doklam looks a boisterous show off than any  misunderstanding, but at each point where either side might have made overtures towards a de-escalation, the situation has merely worsened.  Here is some history !

Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th  Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC (1845 – 1927) was a British statesman who served successively as the fifth Governor General of Canada, Viceroy of India, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In 1917, during the First World War, he wrote to the press (the "Lansdowne Letter") vainly advocating a compromise peace. He has the distinction of having held senior positions in both Liberal Party and Conservative Party governments. Lord Lansdowne was Governor General during turbulent times in Canada. His Irish connections made him unpopular with the Catholic Irish element.  Lord Lansdowne departed Canada, "with its clear skies, its exhilarating sports, and within the bright fire of Gatineau logs, with our children and friends gathered round us” to his regret. Lady Lansdowne was decorated with the Order of Victoria and Albert and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India.

Lord Lansdowne was appointed Viceroy of India in the same year he left Canada. The viceroyalty, which he held from 1888 to 1894, was offered to him by the Conservative prime minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil.  Upon his return, as a Liberal Unionist, he aligned with the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, appointed Lord Lansdowne to the post of Secretary of State for War in  1895. The unpreparedness of the British Army during the Second Boer War brought calls for Lansdowne's impeachment in 1899.

Moving away, ‘McMahon Line’  is a border line between Northeast India and Tibet proposed by Henry McMahon at the 1914 Simla Convention. It is the effective boundary between China and India, although its legal status is disputed by the Chinese government.  The line is named after Henry McMahon, foreign secretary of British India and the chief negotiator of the convention at Simla. It was signed by McMahon and Lonchen Satra on behalf of the Tibetan Government.  It extends for 550 miles (890 km) from Bhutan in the west to 160 miles (260 km) east of the great bend of the Brahmaputra River in the east, largely along the crest of the Himalayas.

The McMahon Line is regarded by India as the legal national border, but China rejects the Simla Accord and the McMahon Line, contending that Tibet was not a sovereign state and therefore did not have the power to conclude treaties.

With the present imbroglio, hopeful that India and China can negotiate a peaceful resolution to the ongoing Doklam standoff, a senior Trump official has said the US "supports return of status quo" of the tri-junction point. The US is concerned about "sovereignty issues and adherence to international law" amidst increased tension between the two Asian giants, said a senior administration official. "We are monitoring the (Doklam) situation very carefully. We are concerned. We hope that the two sides can negotiate a peaceful resolution to the issue. We support return to the status quo," a senior administration official told PTI. "We're also concerned about Bhutanese sovereignty issues. We're concerned in general terms about sovereignty issues and adherence to international law. I think that certainly pertains to this particular issue," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity, given the sensitive nature of confrontation between India and China. Even as China- both its officials and the state-sponsored media- have increased its rhetoric over the past few months, which at times is seen as entering the domain of threatening; New Delhi, which has taken a mature and strong stand against Beijing, according to experts, is believed has not reached out to Washington on this issue.

Do you know that besides McMohan line existed another treaty on borders ! Here is something interesting read in MailOnline – written by Claude Arpi titled ‘ Why China needs a history lesson on the 1890 Convention’:

India has won a battle on the ridge in western Bhutan by not allowing China to change the status quo and build a strategic road near the trijunction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan. But Delhi has lost other battles.

In 2003, China's Central Military Commission approved the concept of 'Three Warfares': one, the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; two, overt and covert media manipulation; and three, legal warfare designed to manipulate strategies, defence policies, and perceptions of target audiences abroad. While some in India are satisfied with preventing the construction of the road, the other aspects of the standoff should be looked into (and indeed India does have strong legal and historical arguments). For example, Delhi has been unable to explain to the Indian public the background about the Chinese 'trick' regarding the 1890 Convention repeatedly quoted by the Chinese authorities. The spokesperson of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing vociferously managed to convince many that it was a valid treaty. However, the fact that the main stakeholders, Tibet and Sikkim (and Bhutan for the trijunction), were not even consulted, made it an 'Imperial Treaty' with no validity (in any case, the survey of the trijunction was done several decades after the agreement was signed; so China can't justify 'fixing' the trijunction by quoting this treaty).

In Tibet: a Political History, Tibetan politician and historian Tsepon WD Shakabpa explained: 'In 1890 a convention was drawn up in Calcutta… without consulting the government of Tibet.  'The first article of the convention agreement defined the (northern) boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, and the second article recognised a British protectorate over Sikkim.' Three years later, the trade regulations about increasing the trade facilities across the Sikkim-Tibet frontier were discussed: 'Again, the provisions of that agreement could not be enforced because Tibet had not been a party to the negotiations,' says Shakabpa. The Convention of 1890 and the Trade Regulations of 1893 proved to be of no use to the British as Tibet never recognised them; this eventually led London to directly 'deal' with Lhasa and send the Younghusband expedition to Lhasa in 1904 and open the doors to organise the Tripartite Simla Convention in 1914, with British India, Tibet and China sitting on equal footing.

Today, Beijing speaks of 'renegotiating' the 1890 Convention; it would imply that the treaties signed with the Tibetans, particularly the Simla Convention and the border agreement (defining the McMahon Line) in 1914, would be scrapped and India would have no defined border with Tibet in the Northeast. The Chinese have tried similar tricks earlier. One factor which has led to losing the battle of information is the lack of a Historical Division in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).  In April 1960, Nehru and Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, had several meetings: 'The talks, however, did not resolve the differences that had arisen and the two Prime Ministers decided that officials of the two governments should examine the factual materials in the possession of the two governments in support of their stands,' said a joint communiqué.  Subsequently five rounds of talks were held between officials of India and China; the Indian side was headed by JS Mehta, director, China Division, and Gopal, the then Director of MEA's Historical Division. The historian was assisted by knowledgeable colleagues such as TS Murthy, G Narayana Rao and K Gopalachari. The first two meetings were held in Peking, in late June and late July 1960; the next two in New Delhi, in late August and late September 1960, and the last in Rangoon in early December 1960. The outcome is the Report of the Officials, still today a reference for any study on the Tibet-Indian border. The border issue could probably have been sorted out at that time.

Ironically, the Indian point of view was so well documented (by the historical division) that the MPs were in no mood to agree to a compromise solution; India and China probably lost a chance to solve the dispute.

The Convention of Calcutta so referred as Treaty of 1890  was a treaty between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the ruling Chinese Qing dynasty relating to Tibet and the north Indian Kingdom of Sikkim. It was signed by Governor-General of India Lord Lansdowne and the Chinese Amban or resident in Tibet, Sheng Tai on 17 March 1890 in Calcutta, India.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
27th Aug 2017.

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