Calcutta Convention of 1890 (Important): Indian-China Dhok La Dispute (Download PDF)


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Historically, maps were vague and were not to be relied upon. The Survey of India established in 1767 developed best maps for Asia. However, maps have a margin of error due to projection of 3D data on a-two dimensional scale. Topographic indicators are thus used to make maps more specific, for example, parts of the US-Mexico border are delineated by the river Rio Grande. However, river changing its course produces distortions in the map.

Map shows the Border of Tri-Junction

Map Shows the Border of Tri-Junction

Map shows the Border of Tri-Junction

Interpreting Calcutta Convention of 1890

  • India in dispute with Chinese on the interpretation of Calcutta Convention of 1890
  • Convention was tripartite- India, Sikkim and China.
  • British India won battles and wars against the Chinese- forcing them to open up to imperial trade and commerce.
  • With the treaty arrangements, Chinese negotiated with Calcutta and later Delhi over Sikkim and Bhutan territories (British exercised foreign policy control over those states).
  • Conventions with the British imperial government show China as weaker party due to the might of the British Empire.
  • When India succeeded to the treaties negotiated by the British Empire Chinese brought up numerous border disputes
  • Without these British negotiated treaties, India would look very different. For example:
  • Almost all of Uttarakhand is now a part of India because of a treaty between the East India Company and the Nepalese Monarchy.
  • Other parts of India were incorporated based on these agreements, the key being Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Tri-junction point in Sikkim is based on integration of Article 1 of the Calcutta Convention of 1890 concerning the boundary of the erstwhile state of Sikkim.

“The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its affluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nepal territory. ”

Due to cartography errors, Mount Gipmochi is incorrect starting point. The boundary could be delineated as the crest of the mountain rage separating the Teesta from the Mochu, which commences at Batang La and not Mount Gipmochi. Mount Gipmochi is about 84 km south of Batang La, which is the topographical tri-junction point.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

  • Although the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties does not apply as the Calcutta Convention was concluded prior to the Vienna Convention, but it can be used as a guide. Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states:
  • A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.
  • The context for the purpose of the interpretation of a treaty shall comprise, in addition to the text, including its preamble and annexes:

    • any agreement relating to the treaty which was made between all the parties in connection with the conclusion of the treaty;
    • any instrument which was made by one or more parties in connection with the conclusion of the treaty and accepted by the other parties as an instrument related to the treaty.
  • There shall be taken into account, together with the context:

    • any subsequent agreement between the parties regarding the interpretation of the treaty or the application of its provisions
    • any subsequent practice in the application of the treaty which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation
    • any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties.
  • A special meaning shall be given to a term if it is established that the parties so intended

The Resolution

  • Now according to Calcutta Convention demarcate the border using permanent topographical feature- mountain range separating the Teesta from the Mochu. The error is in describing the boundary line, but the actual border, is not this description but the permanent topographical feature.
  • If topographical corrections result in the crest of the mountain range being Batang La, the point in the treaty will be Batang La instead of Mount Gipmochi.
  • The Chinese conveniently interpret Calcutta Convention to be defining a boundary line but it defines a boundary that has to be drawn across a geographical feature.
  • India thus rightly asserts Indian-Chinese border from Batang La and not Mount Gipmochi
  • Treaty does not talk of the tri-junction point between India, Bhutan and China- Bhutanese border is not discussed in the Calcutta Convention.

Bhutan, India and China (2007 Friendship Treaty)

  • Bhutan and China have dispute over control of Doklam plateau with no treaty demarking this area,
  • Chinese considers that Indians have no business between Bhutan and China.
  • Bhutan however is protected by Indian defenses under the 2007 Friendship Treaty and India recognises Bhutanese claim to the area
  • In addition, Doklam plateau is important strategically for India as it is very near India’s “chicken neck”
  • Bhutan obligated under the 2007 Friendship Treaty to ensure no part of its territory is used for activities that are harmful to Indian security interests in the region
  • Chinese cannot under international law unilaterally occupy disputed territory

- Published/Last Modified on: September 6, 2017

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