This was the situation the British faced at the dawn of the 20th century and decided that they had to take direct action, since China was unable to deliver on the commitments undertaken over the past twenty years. The result was the Younghusband expedition. Lord Curzon was the Viceroy and he declared that “the so-called suzerainty of China over Tibet [is] a constitutional fiction, a political affectation which has been maintained because of its convenience to both parties”. At the end of the expedition, the two sides signed the Anglo-Tibetan Convention on 7 September 1904. Thus, the Tibetans were once more left to fend for themselves in the face of a military attack, without any aid from China. And once again, Tibet entered into a treaty with a foreign power without any role for Beijing. The provisions of the Convention of 1904 also make revealing reading; the preamble admitted that “doubts and difficulties about the meaning and validity” [emphasis added] had arisen over the 1890 agreement with China [a polite way of recording the fact that Tibet was refusing to recognise and therefore to implement that agreement]; the rest of the Treaty essentially ratified the substance of the earlier agreements between Britain and China on the border between Sikkim and Tibet and allowed for trade rights for British India. Finally, another important outcome was to check Russian influence in Tibet and Tibet was required not to cede or lease any part of its territory to any foreign power and to remove all foreign representatives and to extend no economic concessions to any foreign power. Russian influence was thus also blocked, though Dorjiev remained active in Tibet for some time longer.
|In the 1940’s the British repeatedly told the Tibetan Foreign Bureau that they signed the Convention and then left after a few weeks. They never acted as an invading power which remains in the invaded territories. They wanted to show the difference of attitude between China and HMG.|
Dalai Lama’s own stated position that he no longer seeks independence from China but only a wide degree of genuine autonomy. This, however, is only a proposal and does not alter the legal status of Tibet
What this episode shows again is that China played no role in defending Tibet and no role in treaty-making by Tibet. What is more, it also showed that treaties and agreements entered into by China on behalf of Tibet could not be implemented because Tibet would not acknowledge China’s right to make any commitments on its behalf. And it demonstrated that such commitments would remain unimplemented.
The 1965 Resolution did not specifically reiterate the call for self-determination, but it reaffirmed the earlier Resolutions and had the support of India, among other major powers. Thus, the UN is committed to giving the Tibetans the right of self-determination, but this will obviously not happen as long as China remains willing to use its veto power in the UN Security Council. Nevertheless the legal position is clear and worth recording
The 20th century thus opened with Tibet becoming an active focus of the power play between the Great Powers and with China having played no role that a sovereign or suzerain would be required to play, though for completeness, it may be mentioned that Manchu China did help Tibet in 1792 during the war with the Gorkhas.
But more was to come. Not for the last time, differences arose between the Viceroy in India and London over policy in Asia. In London, the view was that Britain had to work diplomatically with both China and Russia, the former to block the Russians in Tibet, the latter to prepare for the looming challenge from Germany. Thus, the Lhasa Convention between Britain and Tibet was reaffirmed by China in the British-Chinese Convention of 1906. This “confirmed” the 1904 Convention and stated that the trade concessions granted under the 1904 agreement would not be available to any other state, other than China, thus addressing the fear of Russian influence in Tibet, by co-opting China for the purpose. Unfortunately for Tibet, the British further confirmed the dilution of the 1904 Convention by signing the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907 which covered Afghanistan, Iran and Tibet. According to this, Tibet was once again, inter alia, deemed to be under the suzerainty of China. All this was the result of London over-ruling Calcutta in the larger interests of co-opting Russia over the growing differences with Imperial Germany, in the face of which London wished to settle as many issues with the other major powers as it could.
Tibet needed to be sacrificed for this purpose. [An interesting sidelight on the diplomacy of those days is that when the Kaiser Wilhelm examined the text of the Anglo-Russian Convention, he minuted on the text that this was clearly aimed against Germany.]
The matter did finally come up in the UN General Assembly in later years – in 1959, 1961 and 1965. The first of these was confined to the violation of the rights of the Tibetan people, but the second, in 1961, carried a call for the right of self-determination of the Tibetan people
This was the tangled situation in the early 1900’s, when the Chinese Empire collapsed in 1911 and was replaced by a republican government. One of the early developments following this was the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1913, under which each recognised the other as an independent country. Although there have been some efforts to deny the existence of any such agreement, the Government of Mongolia made this Treaty public in 1982, at a time when relations between the Soviet bloc and China were extremely hostile. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama had also formally declared Tibet an independent country in 1912 and all Chinese officials, including all armed personnel, had been expelled. Representatives of Nepal had witnessed the agreement and its implementation. The Chinese were again expelled from Tibet in July 1949.
The US archives show that the Americans did try several times to persuade Nehru to do more to help Tibet, including at the UN, but it was not to be – Nehru was more concerned about his role in the Korea conflict
This was the setting for the Simla conference in 1914. The conference began early in the year and representatives from Britain, Tibet and China were all present. They examined and accepted each others’ credentials, thus indicating that all three were participating as equals. The major result for India was the boundary between British India and Tibet – the McMahon Line. It also divided Tibet into an Inner and Outer Tibet [with the latter being autonomous, the former not], an issue that still rankles among Tibetans, for it left many Tibetans under direct Chinese administration [interestingly it is these populations who today oppose the Chinese rule on the Tibetan plateau]. The Chinese withdrew their representative, Chen I‑fan [Ivan Chen], in protest because they did not approve of the line dividing Outer Tibet from China. This was the only reason and had nothing to do with either Tibet signing an agreement with the British as a sovereign country, or with the delineation of the McMahon Line. This fact was highlighted in the Eden Memorandum addressed to T V Soong, the Foreign Minister of China many years later, in 1943. By then, the Second World War was coming to a successful end – the Germans had already surrendered at Stalingrad – and the civil war in China was causing concern as to the eventual outcome. This was why Eden communicated to the Nationalist Government that Britain had, since 1921, been regarding Tibet as an autonomous country under Chinese suzerainty, but with treaty-making powers. A brief quote from the Eden Memorandum will bring this out.
Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control
Excerpt from the Eden Memorandum 1943
“Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control.”
This was reiterated in the House of Commons in December 1949.
Since 1911, repeated attempts have been made to bring about an accord between China and Tibet. It seemed likely that agreement could be found on the basis that Tibet should be autonomous under the nominal suzerainty of China and this was the basis of the draft tripartite (Chinese-Tibetan-British) convention of 1914 which was initialled by the Chinese representative but was not ratified by the Chinese Government. The rock on which the convention and subsequent attempts to reach an understanding were wrecked was not the question of autonomy (which was expressly accepted by China) but was the question of the boundary between China and Tibet, since the Chinese Government claimed sovereignty over areas which the Tibetan Government claimed belonged to their autonomous jurisdiction.” [Emphasis added].