The US is taking a clearer position in the conflict between China and India, and this boosts the argument for further materially strengthening India to counter China.
A pictorial depiction of the McMahon Line.
1. The United States of America formerly recognised the McMahon Line by passing a bipartisan resolution stating that Arunachal Pradesh is an ‘integral part of India’ and the McMahon Line is the legitimate international boundary between the territories of India and China.
2. The McMahon Line has been at the centre of the India-China territorial dispute in the eastern territory for decades. The line demarcates the region of India’s northeast from Tibet and indicates that Arunachal Pradesh lies on the Indian territory. China however debunks these claims and asserts that the state lies in the territory of China.
3. The dispute over the McMahon Line and the Line of Actual Control is primarily a bilateral dispute, however the recognition by the United States towards India’s claims in the region has its own importance. In the case of bilateral territorial disputes as such, the position of one side over the other is also weighed in terms of the international support given to the sides. The status of an aggressor in this case also hampers the justifiability of one state’s actions. As the US recognises the McMahon Line as the international boundary between India and China, it also stands against China’s aggressive actions in the region and this decision leans heavily in favour of India.
4. The resolution not just recognises Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India’s territory, it also actively condemns the Chinese activities in the disputed region, which also includes building strategic infrastructure in the region and even setting up villages in the conflicted areas. This further delegitimize China’s strategies of publishing maps in Mandarin that include the territory in question as a part of the People’s Republic of China.
5. From an Indian point of view, this comes as a positive news when it comes to garnering international support in its conflict against China. The US categorically also commends India for containing the Chinese aggression and defending its own territories. The containment of China has not just been in the field of active armed conflict but over the years India has implemented the policies of countering the Chinese influence in major resource supply chains, economic partnerships with the states in the region and strengthening its own strategic infrastructure. This also makes India an important partner for the United States to be able to counter the threat of the Chinese on its own sphere of influence.
6. As China's reputation as a revisionist state grows, and as it challenges the status quo in its neighbourhood, its conflict with the United States has risen sharply. This resolution signals a direct condemnation of Chinese aggression in the region and indicates that the United States is becoming wary of the Chinese positions in South Asia.
7. Countering the shared threat of China would also serve to strengthen the strategic relationship between India and the United States. This strategic partnership has been the focus of both the states in the recent past and even though it suffered a few setbacks in terms of the international positions taken with regards to the Russia-Ukraine conflicts, this step suggests that national interests do take precedents in the context of threats. The threat of China is as real for the United States as it is for India and forging strong partnerships could be the only way to build alliances against this threat.
8. The US has in the past recognised the the McMahon Line but did not take a 'position' on it. But the US now sees India as a key partner in its conflict with China, and is choosing to take active stances on areas of dispute. The US aims to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder with its strategic partners in the region, especially India' in the words of Senator Bill Hagerty, one of the senators who introduced the resolution.
9. As far as the bilateral conflict between India and China is concerned, the resolution of the US Senate would not likely have a very strong or long lasting impact on the Chinese actions. If China deems it necessary, they may still pursue aggression in this regard. What it does serve is however, a symbolic recognition of India’s position in this dispute and the space for tangible future collaboration such as critical information exchange infrastructure, defence technology cooperation as well as improving financial partnerships between India and the US to build capacity to counter the Chinese aggressive approach.
10. The other very significant facet of the position of the United States in this regard is about its presence in the Indo-Pacific. The region is all set to become the new theatre of international geopolitics and all the major powers of the world would want to lay claim to benefiting from the strategic location of this region. Countries like India, Australia and the ASEAN member countries become very important in this respect. While China aims to occupy a rather offensive strategy in terms of the dispute in the South China Sea, the US is choosing to build partnerships with these countries - whether it be through the AUKUS alliance or through the QUAD.