Tibet in international law and practice

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].

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →