US on Arunachal

US on Arunachal

As territorial disputes between China and its neighbours acquire a sharper edge, how America talks about them becomes an important part of the unfolding geopolitical dynamic in Asia.

In the East and South China Seas, which have become the new theatres of regional rivalry, Washington has carefully avoided backing the territorial claims of any of the parties neither those of China nor of its allies. On the India-China border dispute, in contrast, we have been just reminded that Washington recognises India's sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh.

During her visit to Guwahati last week, the US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, reportedly said that the US acknowledges the McMahon Line as the legitimate border between India and China. Powell's comments apparently came in response to questions from local reporters. The US envoy added that this is not a new American position and has been in place since 1962, when New Delhi and Beijing clashed with each other.

While that is a separate story in itself, Powell's decision to reaffirm the US approach to Arunachal and the McMahon Line might be of some political significance. It has been years since the US formally articulated this long-standing position on the India-China border dispute. It is one thing for a country to have a position and entirely another for it to state it, or restate it, in public. What matters is the context.

At a moment when US-China relations have entered an uncertain phase, and the India-China boundary dispute remains unresolved, American support to India's sovereignty over Arunachal adds one more layer to the complex triangular relationship between Delhi, Beijing and Washington.

Legacy of 1962

An American scholar, Jeff M. Smith, has recently published a brief account of how the Kennedy administration decided to back India against China on the McMahon Line.

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