Sikkim-Tibet Convention of 1890


The recent standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at Naku La in Sikkim, in an area of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) highlighted the historical Sikkim-Tibet Convention of 1890.


  • According to the Convention, the boundary in the area is based on the watershed principles.
  • Article 1: As per Article (1) of Convention of 1890, it was agreed that 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.
  • Article 2: The second article recognised the British government’s control over Sikkim.
  • The Convention of 1890 was entered by the King of Great Britain on behalf of India before independence and around the time of independence, the Indian Independence (International Arrangement) Order, 1947 was notified by Secretariat of the Governor-General (Reforms) on August 14, 1947.


Why China is raking it up now?

  • The Convention, according to Beijing, settles the border between the two regions.
  • But India maintains that the borders in Doklam, the area in question, are yet to be settled.
  • China stresses that the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary was defined by the 1890 treaty.
  • China has accused India of “betrayal” of the treaty, a colonial era understanding of the boundary alignment relating to Tibet and Sikkim.

The dispute

  • The border between India and China is not clearly demarcated throughout. There is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC).
  • Of the entire 3,488km Sino-Indian border, the only section on which both countries agree that there is no dispute is the 220km Sikkim-Tibet section of the boundary.
  • This is because under the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, the Sikkim-Tibet border was agreed upon and in 1895 it was jointly demarcated on the ground.
  • Not only that, but the new government of People’s Republic of China, which took power in 1949, confirmed this position in a formal note to the government of India on 26 December 1959. 

So, Nathu La belongs to which country?

  • The Gazetteer of Sikkim in 1894, while describing the physical features of Sikkim, also mentions the boundary that runs along Naku la - Chorten Nyima La.
  • The geographic alignment of the features were so prominent that it could easily be identified and recognized.
  • Even analysing the available Google images of the pass, the location of Naku La could be discerned by anyone as the watershed parting line in the area was very prominent.
  • There exists no ambiguity with respect to the location of the pass, since geographic realities cannot be altered.

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