Simla Convention

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Simla Convention
Traditional Chinese西姆拉條約
Simplified Chinese西姆拉条约

The Simla Convention (Chinese: 西姆拉條約), also called Simla Accord; officially the Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet,[1] was an ambiguous[2] treaty concerning the status of Tibet negotiated by representatives of the Republic of China, Tibet and Great Britain in Simla in 1913 and 1914.

Tibetan, British and Chinese participants and plenipotentiaries to the Simla Treaty in 1914

The Simla Convention 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 convention with its annexes also defines the boundary between Tibet and China proper and that between Tibet and British India (with the latter coming to be known as the McMahon Line).[1][a]

A draft convention was initialled by all three countries on 27 April 1914, but China immediately repudiated it.[3][4] A slightly revised convention was signed again on 3 July 1914, but only by Britain and Tibet. The Chinese plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen, declined to sign it.[5][6] The British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries then signed a bilateral declaration that stated that the convention would be binding on themselves and that China would be denied any privileges under the Convention until it signed it.[7][8]


Tibet was a semi-independent protectorate or vassal under indirect rule by the Qing Dynasty. which during the later crises of the Qing Dynasty, saw reduced Chinese influence,[9] and increased British and some Russian influence as a result of the "Great Game", and other foreign influence[9] (such as the presence of French Catholic missionaries). Britain feared increased Russian influence in Tibet, due to contacts between the Russia-born Buryat Agvan Dorzhiev and the 13th Dalai Lama. Agvan Dorzhiev claimed that Russia was a powerful Buddhist country that would ally with Tibet against China or Britain.[10] In response, Britain sought to increase its own influence in Tibet as a buffer for British India. British forces, led by Sir Francis Younghusband, militarily intervened in Tibet in 1904 and made a treaty with the Tibetans, the 1904 Lhasa Convention.[11][10] The British expedition showed the weakness of the Qing rule in Tibet, which caused the Qing to assert their influence once again. This and anti-foreign sentiment led to the Khampas to revolt in the Batang uprising, also called the 1905 Tibetan Rebellion. The Batang uprising was quelled by Qing general Feng Quan, who died in the uprising, and Zhao Erfeng, who became the Qing Dynasty's governing amban for Tibet.[12]

In 1906, the British government sought Chinese acceptance of suzerainty over Tibet as part of the Anglo-Chinese Convention on Tibet, but was rebuffed by the Chinese envoy, who insisted on China's control over Tibetan sovereignty.[13][failed verification] As the "Great Game" was waning with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, Britain and Russia who were forming an entente, acknowledged Chinese "suzerainty" over Tibet to avoid conflict over the region.[14][10]

In 1910, Qing China sent a military expedition to Tibet and came very close to taking it over, along with neighboring Himalayan kingdoms; however the Qing dynasty fell to the Xinhai Revolution the next year.[10]

After the fall of the Qing dynasty in China, the Tibet government at Lhasa expelled all Chinese forces and declared itself independent (1913),[15][16] however, this was not accepted by the newly founded Republic of China.[17]


Contending claims in Kham: Dark blue line – the boundary proposed in the conference; Light blue line – the boundary proposed by China; Pink line (1915) and Dashed blue line (1919) were later Chinese proposals. (Hugh Richardson, 1945)

In 1913, the British convoked a conference at the Viceregal Lodge in Simla, India to discuss the issue of Tibet's status.[18] The conference was attended by representatives of Britain, the newly founded Republic of China, and the Tibetan government at Lhasa.[1] The British plenipotentiary, Sir Henry McMahon, introduced the plan of dividing Tibetan-inhabited areas into "inner Tibet" and "outer Tibet" and apply different policies.[19] "Inner Tibet", which includes Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, would be under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. "Outer Tibet", covering approximately the same area as the modern "Tibet Autonomous Region" would enjoy autonomy. A boundary between Tibet and British India, later called the McMahon Line, was drawn on a map referred to in the treaty.[20]

The Tibetan Indian boundary was negotiated between the British and Tibetan representatives separately, in the absence of the Chinese representative.[21][a] The border decided by them was incorporated in the Simla conference map, which showed the boundary of Tibet as a "red line" and the border between Outer and Inner Tibet as a "blue line". This map was provided as an annexe to the proposed agreement and was initialled by all three representatives on 27 April 1914.[22][b]

The Schedule appended to the Convention contained further notes. For example, it was to be understood that "Tibet forms part of Chinese territory" and after the Tibetans selected a Dalai Lama, the Chinese government was to be notified and the Chinese commissioner in Lhasa would "formally communicate to His Holiness the titles consistent with his dignity, which have been conferred by the Chinese Government"; that the Tibetan government appointed all officers for "Outer Tibet", and that "Outer Tibet" was not to be represented in the Chinese Parliament or any such assembly.[1][23]

Negotiations failed when China and Tibet could not agree over the Sino-Tibetan boundary.[24][clarification needed] The Chinese plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen, initialed the treaty, pending confirmation by his government. He was then ordered by the Chinese government to repudiate his agreement.[13][clarification needed] On 3 July 1914, the British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries signed the Convention without a Chinese signature. They also signed an additional bilateral declaration with the claim that the convention would be binding on them and that China would be denied any privileges under the agreement until it signed it.[c][23][8] Ivan Chen left the room briefly while the British and Tibetan representatives signed the documents, and he did not have knowledge of the proceedings. He believed that the Convention itself was signed (whereas it was only initialled) and McMahon left him to retain that impression.[26] The British and Lonchen Shatra also signed a fresh set of trade Regulations to replace those of 1908.[27]

Evidence indicates that the Chinese plenipotentiary viewed the Convention in favourable terms, thought it best obtainable under the circumstances, and believed that his government would accept it in due course. It is also known that he made a brave effort to convince President Yuan Shikai to accept it after his return to China.[28][29]


Simla Convention was initially rejected by the Government of India as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.[citation needed] The official treaty record, C.U. Aitchison's A Collection of Treaties, was published with a note stating that no binding agreement had been reached at Simla.[30] Legal scholar M. C. van Praag states that neither the British nor the Tibetan government officially repudiated the actions of their plenipotentiaries in communications to the other treaty party in 1914, under the law in existence at the time, a treaty would only have been voidable if the treaty party damaged by it had demanded its invalidation and the other party had agreed to it.[31] Since the condition (acceptance from China) specified by the accord was not met, Alastair Lamb states that the Tibetans considered the McMahon Line invalid.[32]

2008 British policy change[edit]

Until 2008, the British Government's position remained the same that China held suzerainty over Tibet but not full sovereignty. It was the only state still to hold this view.[33] David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, described the old position as an anachronism originating in the geopolitics of the early 20th century.[34] Britain revised this view on 29 October 2008, when it recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet by issuing a statement on its website.[d] The Economist stated that although the British Foreign Office's website does not use the word sovereignty, officials at the Foreign Office said "it means that, as far as Britain is concerned, 'Tibet is part of China. Full stop.'"[33]

The British Government sees their new stances as an updating of their position, while some others have viewed it as a major shift in the British position.[e] Tibetologist Robert Barnett thinks that the decision has wider implications. India's claim to a part of its north-east territories, for example, is largely based on the same agreements – notes exchanged during the Simla convention of 1914, which set the boundary between India and Tibet – that the British appear to have simply discarded.[35] It has been speculated that Britain's shift was made in exchange for China making greater contributions to the International Monetary Fund.[35][36][37]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The map was finalised on 24/25 March 1914 by the British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries. Indian sources currently claim that, on being informed of the line, the Chinese plenipotentiary did not express any disagreement. (Sinha 1987, p. 12)
  2. ^
    • Sinha (1966), p. 37: "The two maps (27 April 1914 and 3 July 1914) illustrating the boundaries bear the full signature of the Tibetan Plenipotentiary; the first bears the full signature of the Chinese Plenipotentiary also; the second bears the full signatures along with seals of both Tibetan and British Plenipotentiaries. (V. Photographic reproductions of the two maps in Atlas of the North Frontier of India, New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs 1960)"
    • Goldstein (1991), p. 80 quotes the India Office records IOR/L/PS/10/344.
    • Gupta (1971): "The Indian Government opened bilateral negotiations with the Tibetans in Deli in February–March 1914 (the conferees having retreated from the Simla winter) with the object of securing Tibetan agreement to the proposed alignment."
  3. ^ This effectively meant that Tibet's de facto independence would continue until China signed the Convention. Lhasa would also be within its rights to contest the Chinese control of the "Inner Tibet" regions.[25]
  4. ^ Miliband, David, "Written Ministerial Statement on Tibet (29/10/2008)", British Foreign Office website, archived from the original on 2 December 2008: "Our ability to get our points across has sometimes been clouded by the position the UK took at the start of the 20th century on the status of Tibet, a position based on the geo-politics of the time. Our recognition of China's "special position" in Tibet developed from the outdated concept of suzerainty. Some have used this to cast doubt on the aims we are pursuing and to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory. We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China. Our interest is in long term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans."
  5. ^ Lunn (2009), p. 7: "However, in October 2008 there was what some have viewed as a major shift in the British position, although the Government sees it more as an updating of it. This involved abandoning the concept of 'Chinese suzerainty' on the grounds that it was unclear and out-dated."



  1. ^ a b c d "Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, Simla (1914)", Tibet Justice Center. Retrieved 20 March 2009
  2. ^ Hoffmann 1990, p. 19: "McMahon's achievement seemed substantial at the time, but its meaning proved to be ambiguous at best."
  3. ^ Banerji, Borders (2007), p. 201: "... the draft treaty initiated by the three parties was subsequently revised, after consultations with Russia."
  4. ^ Mehra (1974), p. 275.
  5. ^ Hoffmann (1990), p. 19.
  6. ^ Mehra (1972), p. 299: "Ivan Chen, who had initialed the first earlier in April, kept his own counsel."
  7. ^ Hoffmann (1990), p. 19: "The Simla Convention itself was initialed again by the British and Tibetan conference leaders in Delhi on 3 July 1914, and they signed a joint declaration pronouncing the convention binding upon themselves, even without Chinese agreement."
  8. ^ a b Mehra (1972), p. 299: "A joint British-Tibetan declaration stipulating that its terms would apply to China only when the latter fell in line with its two other signatories was attached to the Convention."
  9. ^ a b Reuters Staff (21 April 2008). "FACTBOX: Historical ties between China and Tibet". Reuters. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Phanjoubam, Pradip (2016). The Northeast question : conflicts and frontiers. New Delhi. pp. 146–152. ISBN 978-1-317-34003-4. OCLC 944186170.
  11. ^ "Convention Between Great Britain and Tibet (1904)", Tibet Justice Center Archived 10 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 20 March 2009
  12. ^ Ho, Dahpon David (2008). "The Men Who Would Not Be Amban and the One Who Would: Four Frontline Officials and Qing Tibet Policy, 1905-1911". Modern China. 34 (2): 210–246. doi:10.1177/0097700407312856. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 20062699. S2CID 143539645.
  13. ^ a b Zhu, Yuan Yi (2020). "Suzerainty, Semi-Sovereignty, and International Legal Hierarchies on China's Borderlands". Asian Journal of International Law. Cambridge University Press. 10 (2): 293–320. doi:10.1017/S204425132000020X. S2CID 225302411.
  14. ^ Convention Between Great Britain and Russia (1907) Article II, Tibet Justice Center Archived 10 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Goldstein (1997), pp. 30–31
  16. ^ "Proclamation Issued by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIII (1913)", Tibet Justice Center Archived 10 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 20 March 2009
  17. ^ Smith (1996), pp. 182–183
  18. ^ Maxwell 1970
  19. ^ Zhu, Yuan Yi (2020). "Suzerainty, Semi-Sovereignty, and International Legal Hierarchies on China's Borderlands". Asian Journal of International Law. Cambridge University Press. 10 (2): 293–320. doi:10.1017/S204425132000020X. S2CID 225302411.
  20. ^ Sinha (1987), p. 12.
  21. ^ Mehra (1974), Chapter 19. "Negotiating the India–Tibet Boundary" (pp. 221–232).
  22. ^ Calvin (1984): "The [McMahon] line was marked on a large-scale (eight miles to the inch) map. On a much smaller-scale map, which was used in the discussions of the Inner Tibet-Outer Tibet boundary, the McMahon-Tibetan boundary (which would become the McMahon Line) was shown as a sort of appendix to the boundary between Inner Tibet and China proper (see Map Six,below)."
  23. ^ a b Goldstein 1991, p. 75.
  24. ^ Shakya (1999), p. 5
  25. ^ Richardson (1984), p. 114: "The advantages of which the Chinese were thus deprived do not appear to have been specifically catalogued but they must be interpreted as follows:
    1. The operation in the favour of China of the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906. [...]
    2. The recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet by the Tibetan and British Governments.
    3. The right to appoint an Amban at Lhasa with a military escort of 300 men.
    4. The admission that Tibet forms part of China.
    5. The admission that China is not a foreign power for the purpose of the 1904 Anglo-Tibetan Convention.
    6. Any concern in the appointment of a Dalai Lama.
    7. Any limitation of the strength of British escorts in Tibet."
  26. ^ Mehra 1974, pp. 289–292: "When the Lonchen and Sir Henry proceeded to conclude the agreement, Ivan Chen was present briefly. ... Later, however, he left the chamber. After the Convention had been signed, Chen returned to the Conference room."
  27. ^ McKay, Alex, The History of Tibet: The modern period: 1895–1959, the Encounter with modernity, p. 136.
  28. ^ Mehra (1974), p. 187: "Ivan Chen had 'confidentially' informed him [McMahon] that even in the event of his (Ivan Chen's) signature being withheld tomorrow a favourable change in the attitude of the Chinese Government is likely to be produced by the actual conclusion of an independent agreement between Great Britain and Tibet."
  29. ^ Mehra, Parshotam (15 May 1982), "India-China Border: A Review and Critique", Economic and Political Weekly, 17 (20): 834–838, JSTOR 4370923: "It is significant that on the eve of his departure from Simla he [Chen] still sincerely believed that China would change its stance. More, it is now known that he made a brave effort, off his own bat, to influence Yuan Shih-kai accept the Simla convention."
  30. ^ Lin, Hsiao-ting (September 2004), "Boundary, sovereignty, and imagination: Reconsidering the frontier disputes between British India and Republican China, 1914–47", The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 32 (3): 25–47, doi:10.1080/0308653042000279650, S2CID 159560382
  31. ^ van Praag, M.C. van Walt (December 2014), "The Simla Agreements in International Law", Tibet Policy Journal, The Tibet Policy Institute (1): 26–55: "Moreover, under the law in existence at the time, a treaty would only have been voidable if the treaty party damaged by it had demanded its invalidation and the other party had agreed to it, or if the matter was resolved by a recognized dispute resolution mechanism. Unhappiness with the outcome of negotiations or with the behaviour of negotiators did not affect the validity and enforceability of treaties. Neither the British nor the Tibetan government officially repudiated the actions of their plenipotentiaries in communications to the other treaty party, internal rumblings notwithstanding."
  32. ^ Shakya (1999), p. 279; Shakya (2012), p. 530: "Since the British were not able to obtain such an acceptance, the Tibetans considered the line proposed by McMahon invalid.[14: Alastair Lamb, 1989. p. 469]"
  33. ^ a b Staff, Britain's suzerain remedy, The Economist, 6 November 2008
  34. ^ Lunn (2009), p. 8.
  35. ^ a b Robert Barnett, Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?, The New York Times, 24 November 2008
  36. ^ Forsyth, James (the web editor of The Spectator). Have Brown and Miliband sold out Tibet for Chinese cash? Archived 3 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine, website of The Spectator, 25 November 2008.
  37. ^ Editorial The neglect of Tibet, The Daily Telegraph, 11 March 2009.


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