Arunachal Pradesh (called South Tibet in China) is a full-fledged state of India. India’s sovereignty over the area is internationally recognized and its residents have not shown any inclination to leave India. The majority of the international maps puts the area in India. China has some historical claims through its ownership of Tibet, but the geography primarily favors India.
The primary controversy is over the ownership of the Tawang tract (northern part of the state) where India’s biggest monastery and an ancient trading town lies.
No one knows the ancient history of Arunachal. It borders Assam (a core part of Indian civilization) and has a few old temples. But, it is also influenced by Tibetan, Burmese and Bhutanese cultures.
In the 16th century, the most important heritage of the state –was built. This is one of the most important sites for the Tibetan Buddhists. The area is assumed to have been populated by the Tibetans at that point.
Everyone argues whom it should belong to given the ancient history. The verdict is uncertain. In the ancient times, Indian empires and Tibetan empires were in harmony and the exact border was neither drawn nor enforced. But, things would change.
Until 1912, the border between Tibet and India was not quite delineated. Very few people lived there for it to matter. Neither the Mughals nor the British were controlling the region. Even the Tibetans were not that interested. For instance, here is India’s map of 1909. It puts the state in Tibet.
However, here is a map of China and Tibet in 1892. That sort of puts the state in India/Burma.
In short, both India and Tibet were sort of confused where the borders lied. Britishers initially didn’t bother as they found nothing. Eventually, they discovered the Tawang Monastery and it was time to draw the borders. In 1914, the representatives of Tibet, China and British India sat together to draw the borders. Before going into that, I will give a brief introduction to Tibet.
For a sizable chunk of history, Tibet was an independent region. However, under the Yuan dynasty (circa 1200 AD) Tibet came under China. Since then China has started claiming Tibet under her rule. In the 18th century, the Chinese grip would be loosened as the Qing dynasty started decaying. By about 1860s, Tibet began to be recognized as a separate country. Here is a 1864 map that shows Tibet as a separate country. China still claimed it was hers.
By 1913, Qing dynasty would completely collapse in China and Tibet would expel all of the remaining Chinese representatives from Tibet.
Simla convention of 1914
In 1914, Tibet was an independent, but weak country. British India negotiated hard and got Tibet to accept that the region of Tawang and the area south of it belonged to India. Everyone was happy except China. Chinese representative in the meeting, withdrew from that and since then China refused to accept the accord resulted out of the meeting.
After the meeting, the border was not fully enforced. Except for Tawang, there was not much interesting going on in the state and it was ignored by everyone. In 1935, a British administrative office would go back to the convention ruling and unearthed the finding. Soon, India would start using the region in her maps.
Who does it belong to?
China never recognized Tibet’s independence nor the 1914 Simla convention. In 1950 China would completely take over Tibet. Thus, according to China, Tawang region belongs to her. China especially wants to hold on to the monastery as that is a leading center of Tibetan Buddhism in India.
According to India, most of the state had ancient Indian influence from Assam and in 1914 Tibetans signed an agreement to give the state to India. Also, from an Indian perspective, keeping the Tawang monastery within India is the best way to protect whatever is remaining of Tibetan culture.
In 1962, India and China warred over the region. But, the geography clearly favors India and China had to pull back from Tawang. Since then India has established complete control over the region. It is now as India as any other part of India.
Look at the map here. The international borders of the state roughly coincide with the high altitude.