July 3, 1914 (a Friday)

This map shows the original political boundaries of Tibet. Historic Tibet embraced the entire Tibetan Plateau, an area the size of Western Europe with an average elevation of 15,000 feet above sea level. The three main provinces of Tibet were U – Tsang, comprising Central and Western Tibet; Kham in the east; and Amdo in the northeast. After China conquered Tibet in 1950, Amdo and eastern Kham were incorporated forcibly into China. Ambo became Qinghai province, while eastern Kham was made a part of Sichuan province. U – Tsang and western Kham were proclaimed the Tibet Autonomous Region in 1965.

On this date, Tibetan independence was confirmed in the Simla Accord, or the Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, in Simla. The British had convened a tripartite conference in Simla, India in 1913 where the representatives of the three nations met on equal terms. As the British delegate reminded his Chinese counterpart, Tibet entered into the conference as an “independent nation recognizing no allegiance to China.

The Accord provided that Tibet would be divided into “Outer Tibet” and “Inner Tibet”. Outer Tibet, which roughly corresponded to Ü-Tsang and western Kham would “remain in the hands of the Tibetan Government at Lhasa under Chinese suzerainty”, but China would not interfere in its administration. “Inner Tibet”, roughly equivalent to Amdo and eastern Kham, would be under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. The Accord with its annexes also defined the boundary between Tibet and China proper and between Tibet and British India (the latter became known as the McMahon Line).

Representatives of Tibet, Great Britain, and China at Simla Accord 1914.  Front row, from left: an assistant to Ivan Chen; Sekyong Trulku, Prince of Sikkim; Ivan Chen, Chinese plenipotentiary; Sir Henry McMahon, British Plenipotentiary; Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary; Teji Trimon, assistant; Nedon Khanchung, Secretary.

Representatives of Tibet, Great Britain, and China at Simla Accord 1914. Front row, from left: an assistant to Ivan Chen; Sekyong Trulku, Prince of Sikkim; Ivan Chen, Chinese plenipotentiary; Sir Henry McMahon, British Plenipotentiary; Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary; Teji Trimon, assistant; Nedon Khanchung, Secretary.

However, China rejected the Accord and their plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen, withdrew on 3 July 1914. The British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries then attached a note denying China any privileges under the Accord and sealed it as a bilateral agreement the same day:

We, the Plenipotentiaries of Great Britain and Tibet, hereby record the following declaration to the effect that we acknowledge the annexed convention as initialed to be binding on the Governments of Great Britain and Tibet, and we agree that so long as the Government of China withholds signature to the aforesaid convention she will be debarred from the enjoyment of all privileges accruing therefrom.

Communist China has argued that because it did not sign the Simla Accord, it did not surrender its claim to Tibet. This argument misses the point. The results of the Simla Conference are not principally what demonstrates Tibet’s capacity to enter into international relations. Rather, it is the participation of Tibet as an equal party which demonstrates that capacity. Because Tibet participated as an equal with China and Great Britain, Tibet and Great Britain could only have entered a treaty if Tibet were an autonomous state, albeit one with links to China. A binding treaty could have resulted from the Simla Conference, had the negotiations gone well, because the parties had the capacity to form such a treaty.

McMahon’s work was initially rejected by the British government as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention, but this convention was renounced in 1921. Consequently, the British began using the McMahon Line on Survey of India maps in 1937, and the Simla Accord was published officially in 1938. Prior to 1937, Burma was a province of British India. It is noteworthy that, when China and Burma settled their border in 1960, they defined it along the McMahon Line.

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