Foreign relations of Tibet
The Foreign relations of Tibet proceed in the first instance from the agreements which the surrounding nations of China, Russia, India and India's overlord the British entered into regarding Tibet's status. Later the United States and the United Nations were to play a role as they reacted to the assertion of sovereignty by the People's Republic of China beginning in 1950. Nepal and the other small independent or semi-independent countries in the Indian-Tibetan border region play a minor role as does Mongolia.
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Little is known of Tibet before the 7th century when Buddhism was introduced by missionaries from India. Tibet was a strong kingdom between the 8th and 10th centuries. Tibetan Buddhism began to develop when the Tibetan kingdom weakened in the 10th century.
Relations with Tang dynasty of China
to be added
In the 13th century Tibet was conquered by Genghis Khan, who ruled Tibet through a local puppet government. The Mongol rulers appointed the secular leadership of Tibet to spiritual teachers (Lamas in Tibetan), the last lineage came to be the Dalai Lama.
By the early 18th century China established the right to have resident commissioners, called Ambans, in Lhasa. When the Tibetans rebelled against the Chinese in 1750 and killed the Ambans, a Chinese army entered the country in an effort to restore Chinese authority. As a result, the Tibetans once again in the Chinese view, acknowledged themselves as subjects of the Empire of China and new Ambans were installed. However, China did not make any attempt to impose direct rule on Tibet and the Tibetan government around the Dalai Lama continued to manage its day to day affairs thus in their own view remaining independent.
Residencies in Lhasa
In 1904 the British sent an Indian military force and seized Lhasa, forcing Tibet to open its border with British India and permit a small British residency in Lhasa. A 1906 treaty with China repeated these conditions, making Tibet a de facto British protectorate. There was also a Nepalese presence in Lhasa resulting from a similar invasion by Nepal in 1855 as well as a Chinese residency.
Early 20th century events
After 1907, a treaty between Britain, China, and Russia recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The Chinese established direct rule for the first time in 1910. But when the 1911 Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing Dynasty the Chinese troops withdrew, and the Dalai Lama was able to re-establish his power. In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia signed a treaty proclaiming their independence from China, and their mutual recognition. The subsequent outbreak of world wars and civil war in China caused both the powers and China to lose interest in Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama ruled undisturbed. In 1914 a treaty was negotiated in India, the Simla Convention, representatives of China, Tibet and Britain participated. Again, Chinese "suzerainty" over Tibet was recognized and a boundary negotiated between British India and Tibet which was very generous to Britain. The treaty was never signed by the Chinese and thus never came into force. The Chinese raised a number of objections, especially their refusal to recognize any treaty between Tibet and Britain.
China's assertion of sovereignty
Neither the Nationalist government of the Republic of China nor the People's Republic of China have ever renounced China's claim to sovereignty over Tibet. The PRC ascribes Tibetan efforts to establish independence as due to the machinations of "British imperialism" . According to the Chinese, the Tibetan cabinet, the Kashag, set up a "bureau of foreign affairs" in July, 1942 and demanded that the Chinese mission in Lhasa, the Office of the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs, deal only with it. The Chinese successfully resisted this.
In 1950 the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet against little resistance. In 1951 the 17 Point Agreement, Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, signed under threat of Chinese invasion by representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama provided for rule by a joint Chinese-Tibetan authority. This agreement was successfully put into effect in Tibet proper but in June, 1956 rebellion broke out in the Tibetan populated borderlands of Amdo and Kham when the government tried to impose similar socialist transformation policies in these regions as in other provinces . Since Amdo and Kham had never come under the control or rule of the Dalai Lama regime prior to 1950 but instead had been under the control of Chinese warlords, they were not considered by the Chinese to be part of Tibet and thus not subject to the "go slow" agreement. This unrest provided the opportunity for the CIA to support an armed Tibetan rebellion which eventually spread to Lhasa. The rebellion was crushed by 1959 and the Dalai Lama fled to India although isolated actions continued until 1969. The Panchen Lama was set up as a figurehead in Lhasa while the Dalai Lama eventually created a Government of Tibet in Exile.
Wartime relations with the United States
The first United States mission to Tibet, in 1942, a reconnaissance mission sent by the OSS to scout out a possible route to southern China during World War II was headed by Captain Ilya Tolstoy, a grandson of the novelist. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Brooke Dolan II who had previously engaged in extensive naturalistic explorations in Tibet. In Lhasa they were granted an audience with the Dalai Lama, then only 7 years old. A letter from Franklin Roosevelt was delivered which was carefully phrased as being addressed to the Dalai Lama as a religious leader but not as the ruler of Tibet. Gifts were given to the Dalai Lama and gifts were received from the Tibetan cabinet, the Kashag. Tolstoy remained for three months but did not attempt to raise the question of transhipment of supplies to China as he could see the unfavorable attitude of the Tibetans. In early 1943 Tolstoy continued into China arriving at Lanzhou in June, 1943.
The notion of building a road or attempting to supply China through Tibet was abandoned but as a result of the relations which were established a wool import quota was granted to Padatsang, a Tibetan merchant from Kham who had aided the mission, and promised radio equipment was delivered to Lhasa, 3 transmitters and 6 receivers. While in Tibet Tolstoy and the British resident had raised the possibility that Tibet might participate in post-war conferences. This never came to fruition as both Britain and the United States in consideration of their relations with China eventually took the position that Tibet was not a sovereign country.
The trade delegation of 1947
In 1947 the Tibetan foreign office began planning a trade delegation to visit India, China, the United States and Britain. Initial overtures were made to the US embassy in India requesting meetings with President Truman and other US officials to discuss trade. This request was forwarded to Washington but the State Department proved willing only to meet with the Tibetans on an informal basis. The delegation consisted of 4 persons, Tsipon Shakabpa, Tibet's chief financial officer, Padatsang and two others including a monk.
Armed with the first Tibetan passports the delegation went first to New Dehli meeting with Prime Minister Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Most foreign trade from Tibet passed through India and it was the practice of the Indian government to convert any foreign currencies received into rupees before payment to Tibet. The Tibetans were unable to negotiate any change in this practice which would have put hard currency into their hands. One of the goals of the trade delegation was to obtain gold or other solid backing for Tibetan currency.
It was the Chinese position that a Chinese passport was required. These were issued and the delegation entered China at Hong Kong using them and spend 3 months in China. For the next leg of the journey to the United States and Britain the Chinese took the position that they would only issue exit visas on the Chinese passports. However the Tibets managed to get a British consular officer in Nanking to issue a British visa on their Tibetan passports and again a US officer in Hong Kong thus defeating the efforts of the US State Department and the British Foreign Office to deny use of the Tibetan passports, a small victory for the supposedly unsophisticated Tibetans.
The delegation arrived in San Francisco in July, 1948 where they were met by the British Consul. They traveled by train to Washington where despite strong objections by the Chinese and reassurance that the United States recognized China's de jure sovereignty over Tibet the Tibetans were received by the Secretary of State, George Marshall. There was some language in the State Department's negotiations with the Chinese which noted that they exerted no de facto control over Tibet and noted the traditional American principle of favoring self-determination but no more definite statement was made regarding Tibetan sovereignty.
They requested aid from the United States in convincing India to free up their hard currency earning and also for permission to purchase gold from the United States for a currency reserve. They received no help on their problem with India but were given permission to purchase up to 50,000 ounces of gold.
Not meeting with President Truman they proceeded on to New York where they were greeted by their old friend, Ilya Tolstoy, who introduced them around. They met with Lowell Thomas who was interested in visiting Tibet and Dwight Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University and other eastern establishment personalities as well as Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark who had an interest in Tibet.
In November the delegation set sail for Britain where they spent 3 weeks but were received coolly. Returning though India they were able to free up some foreign exchange for the purchase of gold and adding money of their own effected a purchase of $425,800 in gold which was transported to Tibet by pack animals.
Being received more warmly in the United States than in Britain with whom they had a long established relationship set the stage for later expansion of the relationship with the United States as they attempted to deal with later Chinese efforts to reassert effective control.
- Tom Grunfeld, "The Making of Modern Tibet", 1996, hardcover, 352 pages, ISBN 1563247135
- Tatiana Shaumian, Tibet : The Great Game and Tsarist Russia, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000, hardcover, 223 pages, ISBN 0195650565
- John Kenneth Knaus, Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival, Perseus, 1999, hardcover, 398 pages, ISBN 1891620185; trade paperback, Perseus, 2000, ISBN 1891620851
- James Morrison and Kenneth Conboy, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, University Press of Kansas, March, 2002, hardcover, 301 pages, ISBN 0700611592