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TIBET: Proving Truth from Facts

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As the international community takes an increasingly keen interest in the question of Tibet, the demand for information grows. The world is no longer obsessed with the political ideological conflict between the two superpowers of the Cold War period, so that Governments and non-governmental actors can, once again, turn to other burning problems, such as the situation in Tibet. Many Governments are in the process of reviewing their foreign policy on many fronts. They should also thoroughly review their Tibet policy in line with the post-cold war international reality.

Initiatives by parliaments and conferences in different parts of the world to address the human rights situation in Tibet and its underlying political cause as well as moves by a growing number of countries to take up the issue again at the United Nations have met with strong resistance from the Government of the People's Republic of China. One of the results have been a stream of propaganda booklets, following the Stalinist and Maoist tradition, intended to convince foreign readers of China's right to rule Tibet and the great benefit it brought to the people of Tibet.

The Present document, Tibet: Proving Truth from Facts, is intended to respond to the new demand for concise information on key points of the Tibetan question, and at the same time, to serve as a response to the Chinese propaganda, particularly the one issued by the State Council under the title of Tibet--Its Ownership And Human Rights Situation, and published as White Paper. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile does not have the resources to respond to each misrepresentation of the Tibetan situation which appears in the Chinese propaganda. But truth being on the side of the Tibetan people, we feel the need from time to time to restate the facts plainly, as they really are, and trust that this will serve the cause of truth and justice.

This publication touches upon many areas of concern: the fundamental question of the status of Tibet, the validity of China's claim to "ownership" of it and Tibetan people's right to self-determination; the "17-Point Agreement" and its effect on Tibet's status; the events surrounding the resistance to Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama's flight to India; the Tibetan social system before the Chinese occupation and democratic reforms initiated by the Dalai Lama; human rights conditions in occupied-Tibet; deprivation of religious freedom; socio-economic conditions and colonialism; population transfer and control; the state of Tibet's environment; issues related to the militarisation of Tibet; and the efforts that have been undertaken to find a solution to the question of Tibet.

One aspect of the Tibetan situation has been insufficiently highlighted in the past, even though it is fundamental to understanding the context of much of what is happening in Tibet today. This is the profoundly colonialist nature of Chinese rule in Tibet. We tend to identify colonialism with European colonial expansion in the past two centuries. But, as the Malaysian, Irish and other governments pointed out during the United Nations General assembly debates on the Question of Tibet, colonialism in all its manifestations must be brought to an end, whether perpetrated by countries in the West or the East.

The Chinese themselves view Tibet in colonial terms: that is, not as part of China proper, but as non-Chinese territory which China has a right to own and exploit, on the basis of relationship that existed 700 years ago, or, at best, 200 years ago. This attitude is evident already from the title of the Chinese Government's White Paper, which refers to the "ownership" of Tibet. If Tibet were truly an integral part of China for hundreds of years, as China claims, Tibet could not form the object of "ownership" by the country it is already a part of. The very notion of "ownership" of Tibet by China is colonialist and imperialist in nature.

Colonialism is characterised by a number of important elements, all of which are abundantly present in China's rule over Tibet. The most common characteristics of colonialism are: *domination by an alien power; *acquisition of control through military force, unequal treaty; *frequent insistence that the colony is an integral part of the "mother" state; *maintenance of control through instruments of military or administrative and economic power in the hands of the colonial power; *active or passive rejection of alien domination by the colonised people; *suppression, by force if necessary, of persons opposing colonial rule; *chauvinism and discrimination; *the imposition of alien cultural, social and ideological values claimed to be "civilising"; *the imposition of economic development programmes and the exploitation of natural resources of the colony, primarily for the benefit of the colonial power;

  • promotion of population transfer of citizens of the metropolitan state into the

colony and other forms of demographic manipulation; *disregard for the natural environment in the colony; and, in most cases, *an obsessive desire to hold on to the colony despite the political and economic cost.

Most of these characteristics are discussed in this document. Some of these issues are also discussed in the Chinese White Paper on Tibet, in a manner and style which only confirms the colonialist or imperialist view of Tibet held by China's leadership.

Chapter 1. Status of Tibet


At the time of its invasion by troops of the People's Liberation Army of China in 1949, Tibet was an independent state in fact and law. The military invasion constituted an aggression on a sovereign state and a violation of international law. Today's continued occupation of Tibet by China, with the help of several hundred thousand troops, represents an ongoing violation of international law and of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people to independence.

The Chinese Communist Government claims it has a right to "ownership" of Tibet. It does not claim this right on the basis of its military conquest in 1949 or alleged effective control over Tibet since then or since 1959. The Chinese Government also does not base its claim to "ownership" on the so-called "Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" which it forced

upon Tibet in 1951. Instead, China's alleged legal claim is based on historical relationships primarily of Mongol or Manchu rulers with Tibetan lamas and, to a lesser extent, of Chinese rulers and Tibetan lamas. The main events relied on by the Chinese Government occurred hundreds of years ago: during the height of Mongol imperial expansion, when the Mongol Emperors extended their political supremacy throughout most of Asia and large parts of Eastern Europe; and when Manchu Emperors ruled China and expanded their influence throughout East and Central Asia, including Tibet, particularly in the 18th century.

It is not disputed that at different times in its long history Tibet came under various degrees of foreign influence: that of the Mongols, the Gorkhas of Nepal, the Manchu Emperors of China and the British rulers of India. At other times in Tibet's history, it was Tibet which exercised power and influence on its neighbours, including China. It would be hard to find any state in the world today that has not been subjected to foreign domination or influence for some part of its history. In Tibet's case the degree and length of foreign influence and interference was quite limited. Moreover, relationship with the Mongol, Chinese and Manchu rulers, to the extent they had political significance, were personal in nature and did not at any time imply a union or integration of the Tibetan state with or into a Chinese state.

However fascinating Tibet's ancient history may be, it's status at the time of the Chinese invasion must, of course, be judged on the basis of its position in modern history, especially its relationship with China since 1911, when the Chinese overthrew the foreign Manchu rule and became the masters of their own country. Every country can go back to some period in history to justify territorial claims on neighbouring states. That is unacceptable in international law and practice. The reader of China's White Paper "Tibet: Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation" will be struck by the scant attention its authors pay to Tibet's modern history in the decades before 1949. This is because from 1911 to the completion of the Chinese occupation in 1951, there is no evidence of Chinese authority or influence in Tibet which can support China's claim. In fact, the preponderance of the evidence shows precisely the opposite: that Tibet was to all intents and purposes a sovereign state, independent of China. This conclusion is supported by most legal scholars and experts on the subject. The International Commission of Jurists' Legal Enquiry Committee on Tibet reported in its study on Tibet's legal status:

Tibet demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law. In 1950, there was a people and a territory, and a government which functioned in that territory, conducting its own domestic affairs free from any outside authority. From 1913-1950, foreign relations of Tibet were conducted exclusively by the Government of Tibet, and countries with whom Tibet had foreign relations are shown by official documents to have treated Tibet in practice as an independent State. [[[Tibet]] and Chinese People's Republic, Geneva, 1960, pp. 5,6]

Forty years of independence is clearly sufficient for a country to be regarded as such by the international community. Many members of the United Nations today have enjoyed a similar or even shorter period of independence. But in Tibet's case, even its ancient history has been selectively re-written by the Chinese Government's propaganda machine to serve the purpose of defending its claim to "ownership." Thus, even if it is not necessary to discuss Tibet's early history in order to understand its status on the eve of China's military invasion, we believe it is useful to review it briefly, just to set the record straight.

The status of Tibet: 1911-1951

There can be little argument that on the eve of China's military invasion, which started at the close of 1949, Tibet possessed all the attributes of independent statehood recognised under international law: a defined territory, a population inhabiting that territory, a government, and the ability to enter into international relations.

The territory of Tibet largely corresponds to the geological plateau of Tibet, which consists of 2.5 million square kilometre. At different times in history, wars were fought and treaties signed concerning the precise location of boundaries.

The population of Tibet at the time of the Chinese invasion was approximately six million. That population constituted the Tibetan people, a distinct people with a long history, rich culture and spiritual tradition. Tibetans are a people distinct from the Chinese and other neighbouring peoples. Not only have the Tibetans never considered themselves to be Chinese, the Chinese have also not regarded the Tibetans to be Chinese (hence, for example, the references to "barbarians" in Chinese historical annals).

The Government of Tibet was headquartered in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. It consisted of a Head of State (the Dalai Lama), a Cabinet of Ministers (the Kashag), a National Assembly (the Tsongdu), and an elaborate bureaucracy to administer the vast territory of Tibet. The Judicial system was based on that developed by Songtsen Gampo (7th Century), Jangchub Gyaltsen (14th Century), the Fifth Dalai Lama (17th Century) and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (20th Century), and was administered by Magistrates appointed by the Government.

The Government of Tibet levied tax, issued its own currency, ran the country's postal system and issued postage stamps, commanded Tibet's small army, and generally conducted all affairs of Government. It was an ancient form of government which had served the needs of Tibet well in the past, but was in need of reform in order for the country to keep pace with the great political, social and economic changes that were taking place in the world. The Tibetan form of government was a highly de-centralised one, with many districts and principalities of Tibet enjoying a large degree of self-government. This was, to a large extent, inevitable due to the vastness of the territory and the lack of modern communication systems.

The international relations of Tibet were focused on the country's neighbours. Tibet maintained diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with countries in the region such as Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Mongolia, China, British India, and, to a limited extent, with Russia and Japan.

Tibet's independent foreign policy is perhaps most obviously demonstrated by the country's neutrality during World War II. Despite strong pressures from Britain, the U.S. and China to allow the passage of military supplies through Tibet to China when Japan blocked the strategically vital "Burma Road," Tibet held fast to its declared neutrality, which the Allies were constrained to respect.

China today claims that "no country ever recognised Tibet." In international law, recognition can be obtained by an explicit act of recognition or by implicit act or behaviour. The conclusion of treaties, even the conduct of negotiations, and certainly the maintenance of diplomatic relations are forms of recognition. Mongolia and Tibet concluded a formal treaty of recognition in 1913; Nepal not only concluded peace treaties with Tibet, and maintained an Ambassador in Lhasa, but also formally stated to the United Nations in 1949, as part of its application for UN membership, that it maintained independent diplomatic relations with Tibet as it did with several other countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, India and Burma.

Nepal, Bhutan, Britain, China and India maintained diplomatic missions in Tibet's capital, Lhasa. Although China claimed in its propaganda that its mission in Tibet was a branch office of the so-called Commission of Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs of the Guomindang government, the Tibetan Government only recognised it as a diplomatic mission. Its status was no higher than the Nepalese Embassy (Nepal had a full Ambassador or "Vakil" in Lhasa) or the British Mission. The Tibetan Foreign Office also conducted limited relations with the United States when President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent emissaries to Lhasa to request assistance for the Allied war effort against Japan during the Second World War. Also, during the four UN General assembly debates on Tibet in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1965, many countries expressly referred to Tibet as an independent country illegally occupied by China.

Relations with Nationalist China

China's position was ambiguous during this period (1911-49). On the one hand, the Nationalist Government unilaterally announced in its constitution and in communications to other countries that Tibet was a province of the Republic of China (one of the "five races" of the Republic). On the other hand, it recognised that Tibet was not part of the Republic of China in its official communications with the Government of Tibet. Thus, China's President repeatedly sent letters and envoys to the Dalai Lama and to the Tibetan Government asking that Tibet "join" the Republic of China. Similar messages were sent by China to the Government of Nepal. Both Tibet and Nepal consistently refused to join China. In response to the first letter of Chinese President Yuan Shih-kai, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama rejected the invitation to join the Republic, explaining courteously but firmly that Tibetans did "not approve" of the Chinese Government due to past injustices and stated:

The Republic has only just been proclaimed and the national foundations are far from strong. It behoves the President to exert his energies towards the maintenance of order. As for Thibet, the Thibetans are quite capable of preserving their existence intact and there is no occasion for the President to worry himself at this distance or to be discomposed. [Guomin Gongbao, 6 Jan. 1913]

In the White Paper, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama is quoted as having told the "envoy" sent by "Beijing" in 1919 that, "It is not my true intention to be on intimate terms with the British. ... I swear to be loyal to our country and jointly work for the happiness of the five races." In that year an unofficial delegation came to Lhasa ostensibly to present religious offerings to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, but in reality to urge the Tibetan leader to negotiate an agreement with China. However, the Dalai Lama rejected the overture outright, and instead, called for tripartite negotiations in Lhasa.

Liu Man-qing, a woman of mixed Tibetan and Chinese parentage, did arrive in Lhasa in l930. But her visit was described as personal. She also tried to approach the Tibetan Government with communications from the Chinese (resident, but the Tibetans gave her no encouragemen. In China's White Paper, it is stated that the Dalai Lama, in his communications through her, expressed his belief that Tibet is a part of China. The Dalai Lama is quoted as having said,"My greatest wish is for the real peace and unification of China," etc. There is no historical record of the Dalai Lama having made such statements in l930. On the contrary, the official recordof the Dalai Lama's reply to the Chinese President in l930 contradicts this statement. The record refers to a list of eight questions submitted to the Dalai Lama on behalf of the Chinese President and contains each of the Dalai Lama's responses.

On relations with China and Chinese influence in Tibet, the Dalai Lama said:

For the stability of Tibet's religio-political order and happiness of its subjects, it may be better to hold negotiations and conclude treaties as this will result in dependable arrangements.

On Tibet's independence and the border territories Tibet wanted returned from China, the Dalai Lama said:

Under the priest-patron relationship that prevailed so far, Tibet has enjoyed wide independence. We wish to preserve this. We feel that there will be long-term stability if the territories we have lost to outsiders are returned to us. {Record of the l3th Dalai Lama's communication, dated l5th day of the 4th Tibetan month, Iron-Horse Year l930}

Other Chinese envoys to Tibet, such as General Huang Mu-sung (1934), and Wu Zhong-xin (1940), were also told in no uncertain terms by the Tibetan Government that Tibet was and wished to remain independent. It may be stated here that neither the Chinese Government, nor its "special envoy" (Huang Mu-sung), had any role in the appointment of Rading Rinpoche as the regent after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Huang Mu-sung was the first Chinese to be permitted to enter Tibet in an official capacity since 1911. The Tibetans did not refuse him

permission because he came to offer religious tribute and condolences for the late Dalai Lama. In the event, Huang Mu-sung arrived in Lhasa in April 1934, three months after Rading Rinpoche became the Regent. The Tsongdu (National Assembly) nominated three candidates for the regency, Rading Rinpoche, Gaden Tripa Yeshi Wangdhen and Phurchok Rinpoche. Out of them, Rading Rinpoche was selected through a lot-drawing ceremony conducted in front of the statue of Avalokitesvara in the Potala. [Thupten Tenthar Lhawutara in Bod kyi Lo rGyus Rig gNas dPyad gZhi'i rGyu cha bDams BsGrigs, Vol. 12, People's Publishing House, Beijing, 1990]

In the White Paper, China claims that Tibetan Government officials were sent to participate in China's national assembly sessions in 1931 and 1946 in Nanjing. In fact, in 1931, Khenpo Kunchok Jungne was appointed by the Dalai Lama to set up a temporary liaison office in Nanjing and maintain contact with the Chinese Government. Likewise, the 1946 Tibetan mission was sent to Delhi and Nanjing to

congratulate Britain, the United States and China on the Allied victory in the Second World War. They had no instruction or authority to attend any Chinese national assembly. Speaking about this to the International Commission of Jurists' Legal Inquiry Committee on 29 August 1959, the Dalai Lama said, "They (Tibetan delegates in Nanjing) had no official part in the Assembly. When the propaganda came to the knowledge of our Government they were instructed by telegram not to attend."

As for the establishment of the Commission for Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs by the Nationalist Guomindang Government, that too served only to keep up appearances: to this day, the Guomindang Government in Taiwan maintains this Commission which, it claims, not only has jurisdiction over Tibet, but also over the whole of Mongolia, including Outer Mongolia, whose independence has been internationally recognised since 1924. In fact, this Commission was not recognised by the Tibetan Government and never had any authority with respect to Tibet.

UN Debates

When Chinese Communist armies started entering Tibet in 1949, the Tibetan Government sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations to help Tibet resist the aggression. The General Assembly was advised by Britain and India not to take any action for the time being in order not to provoke a full-scale attack by China. But to most countries, China's attack on Tibet was aggression. This became evident especially during the full debates on the issue in the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1965, when many governments echoed the sentiments expressed by the Ambassador of the Philippines who referred to Tibet as an "independent nation" and added: "it is clear that on the

eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the rule of any foreign country." He described China's occupation as "the worst type of imperialism, and colonialism past or present." The Nicaraguan representative condemned the Chinese invasion of Tibet and said: "The people of America, born in freedom, must obviously be repelled by an act of aggression ... and particularly when it is perpetrated by a large state against a small and weak one." The Representative from Thailand reminded the Assembly that the majority of states "refute the contention that Tibet is part of China." Similarly, the Government of the United States condemned and denounced Chinese "aggression" and their "invasion" of Tibet. Irish Representative Frank Aiken stated:

For thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand years at any rate, (Tibet) was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here. <T>[UN GA Docs A/PV 898 1960);A/PV 1394, 1401 1965]

In fact, during those debates, it was only the Communist block which openly sided with China on the issue. From the official statements made during those debates, it is clear that China's assertion that no country ever recognised Tibet's independence or considered the military intervention to be aggression, is simply not true.


The Chinese Government cannot deny the fact that Tibet was independent between 1911 and 1951 without distorting history. Even China's last Head of Mission in Lhasa, Shen Tsung-Lien, wrote after leaving the country in 1948, "Since 1911 Lhasa (ie, the Tibetan Government in Lhasa) has to all practical purposes enjoyed full independence". [[[Tibet]] and the Tibetans, Shen, T. and Liu, S., New York, 1973, p.62] Mao Zedong himself, when he passed through the border regions of Tibet during the Long March and was given food and shelter by local Tibetans, remarked, "This is our only foreign debt, and some day we must pay the Mantzu (sic) and the Tibetans for the provisions we were obliged to take from them." [[[Red]] Star over China, Edgar Snow, New York, 1961, p.214. Emphasis added].

The origin and position of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama

China's White Paper states, "In 1653 and 1713, the Qing emperors granted honorific titles to the 5th Dalai Lama and the 5th Bainqen (Panchen) Lama, henceforth establishing the titles of the Dalai Lama and the Bainqen Erdini and their political and religious status in Tibet. The Dalai Lama ruled the bulk of areas from Lhasa while the Bainqen Erdini ruled the remaining area of Tibet from Xigatse (Shigatse)." This claim is absolutely baseless.

The Tibetan religious scholar and sage, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), founded the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. It became the fourth major school of Tibetan Buddhism, the others being the Nyingma, the Sakya and the Kagyu. Panchen Gedun Drup was Tsongkhapa's principal disciple.

Panchen Gedun Drup's third reincarnation, Sonam Gyatso, was invited to the Mongol Court of Altan Khan who first conferred the title of "Talai (Dalai) Lama" on him. The title was applied retrospectively to his two previous incarnations, making him the Third Dalai Lama. Thus began the line of the Dalai Lamas. It is, therefore, not true, as Chinese propaganda claims, that the title "Dalai Lama" was first established by a Manchu emperor a century later.

The relationship established by the Third Dalai Lama with Altan Khan was a spiritual one, but it would have political repercussions two centuries later, in 1642, when the Mongol prince, Gushri Khan, helped the Fifth Dalai Lama (Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso 1617-1682) to become the supreme political and spiritual ruler of Tibet. The Fifth Dalai Lama, in his turn, conferred the title of "Chokyi Gyalpo" (Dharma Raja) to his Mongol Patron. From that time on, successive Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet as sovereign heads of state. The political position of the Dalai Lamas was, therefore, not established by a Manchu emperor of the Qing Dynasty as claimed in the White Paper, but by the Fifth Dalai Lama with the help of his Mongol patron, two years before the Qing Dynasty was even established.

Tashilhunpo Monastery was established in 1447 by Panchen Gedun Drup, retrospectively known as the First Dalai Lama. Successive abbots of Tashilhunpo monastery were given the title "Panchen" because of their scholarship. The Fifth Dalai Lama gave his teacher, Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (1570-1662), the ownership of Tashilhunpo monastery and some additional estates. After that, the Panchen Lamas were selected on the basis of reincarnation, each successive Panchen Lama retaining ownership of the monastery and estates. This situation was common among many incarnate lamas, such as the Sakya, Phagpa-la, Dakyab Loden Sherab, etc, who had been given estates by the Tibetan Government. But this had absolutely no political significance. Contrary to Chinese Communist propaganda, the Panchen Lamas and other high lamas exercised religious authority only and were not involved in the political administration of any part of Tibet. In fact, the political authority of Shigatse and Tashilhunpo lay with the district governor appointed by Lhasa.

Thus, the Manchu emperor played no role in the establishment of the religious or political status of the Dalai Lama, and none with respect to the Panchen Lama's position either.

After the invasion of Tibet the Chinese Communist Government consistently tried to use the late Panchen Lama to legitimise its position in Tibet. Beijing appointed him to political positions and urged him to denounce and take the place of the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions. But the Panchen Lama refused to do so, and suffered many years of imprisonment and maltreatment as a result.

The Chinese Government claims in the White Paper, as did past Guomindang Governments, that it played a decisive role, through its envoy Wu Zhong-xin, in the selection and installation of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, and states, "... the simple reality that the installation of the 14th Dalai Lama needed the approval of the (Chinese) national government is sufficient proof that Tibet did not possess any independent power during that period (1911-1949)."

In reality, the Dalai Lama was selected according to the age-old religious beliefs and traditions of the Tibetans and no approval of the Chinese Government was needed or sought. As a matter of fact, it was in 1939, before Wu's arrival in Lhasa, that the Regent Rading announced the name of the present Dalai Lama in the Tibetan National Assembly, which unanimously confirmed the candidate. When the enthronment ceremony took place on 22 February 1940, Wu, like envoys from Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and British India, had no special role. Sir Basil Gould, the British Political Officer who represented British India, explains that the official Chinese version of events was a fiction which had been prepared and published before the enthronement. That fictitious account by Wu Zhong-xin, which China today relies on, reflected what the Chinese had intended to happen, but what did not in fact occur. Chinese propaganda has also used a Chinese news report featuring a photograph of the Dalai Lama with Wu Zhong-xin, captioned as having been taken during the enthronement ceremony. But, according to Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, this photo was taken a few days after the ceremony, when Wu had a private audience with the Dalai Lama. "Wu Zhong-xin's claim of having presided over the enthronement ceremony on the basis of this photograph is a blatant distortion of historical facts," Ngabo said in Tibet Daily on 31 August 1989.

Early History

According to Tibetan annals, the first king of Tibet ruled from 127 BC, but it was only in the seventh century AD that Tibet emerged as a unified state and a mighty empire under Emperor Songtsen Gampo. With his rule, an era of political and military greatness and territorial expansion started that lasted for three centuries. The King of Nepal and the Emperor of China offered their daughters to the Tibetan Emperor in marriage. The wedding to the Nepalese and Chinese princesses were of particular importance, because they played important roles in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. Chinese propaganda always refers to political implications of Songtsen Gampo's wedding to the Chinese imperial princess Wen Cheng, conveniently ignoring the Tibetan ruler's other wives, particularly his Nepalese one, whose influence was, if anything, greater than that of her Chinese counterpart.

Tibetan ruler Trisong Detsen (reign: 755-797) expanded the Tibetan empire by conquering parts of China. In 763, China's capital Chang'an (modern day Xian) was invaded and China had to pay an annual tribute to Tibet. In 783, a treaty was concluded which laid down the borders between Tibet and China. A pillar inscription at the foot of the Potala Palace in Lhasa bears witness to some of these conquests. The peace treaty concluded between Tibet and China in 821, is of particular importance in illustrating the nature of relations between these two great powers of Asia. The text of this treaty, both in Tibetan and Chinese, was inscribed on three stone pillars: one was erected in Gungu Meru to demarcate the borders between the two nations, second in Lhasa where it still stands, and the third in the Chinese capital of Chang'an. Passages quoted from the pillars in the White Paper are inaccurate and out of context, and aimed at creating the impression that some sort of "union" resulted from the treaty. Nothing is further from the truth, as is clear from the following principal passage of that treaty:

Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of great Tibet. Henceforth, on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory.

It is hard to see how China can, in its White Paper, interpret these events as showing that "the Tibetans and Hans (Chinese) had, through marriage between royal families and meetings leading to alliances, cemented political and kinship ties of unity and political friendship, and formed close economic and cultural relations, laying a solid foundation for the ultimate founding of a unified nation." In fact, the historical records, both Tibetan and Chinese, contradict such an interpretation and refer to separate and powerful empires.

In the mid-ninth century, the Tibetan state fragmented into several principalities. Tibetan attention focused on India and Nepal from where a strong religious and cultural influence brought on a major spiritual and intellectual renaissance.

Relations with the Mongol Emperors (1240-1350)

The Mongol ruler Genghis Khan and his successors conquered vast territories in Asia and Europe creating one of the largest empires the world has ever known, stretching from the Pacific to eastern Europe. In 1207, the Tangut empire north of Tibet fell to the advancing Mongols, and in 1271, the Mongols announced the establishment of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to rule the Eastern part of the Empire. By 1279, the Chinese Song dynasty in southern China fell before the advancing armies and the Mongols completed their conquest of China. Today, China claims the Yuan Dynasty to be its own dynasty because, by doing so, it lays claim to all Mongol conquests, at least in the eastern half of the Mongol Empire.

Prince Goden, grandson of Genghis Khan, dispatched an expedition to Tibet in 1240 and invited one of Tibet's leading religious hierarchs, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), to his court, thus establishing an enduring Tibetan-Mongol relationship. Here began the unique ch_-y_n (priest-patron) relationship. Kublai Khan, who succeeded Goden Khan, embraced Tibetan Buddhism and adopted Drogon Choegyal Phagpa, nephew of Sakya Pandita, as his spiritual mentor. This ch_-y_n relationship resulted in Kublai adopting Buddhism as his empire's state religion, and Phagpa became its highest spiritual authority. In gratitude, Kublai Khan offered his Tibetan lama political authority over Tibet in 1254, conferring various titles on him.

These early ch_-y_n relationships were followed by many similar relationships between Mongol princes or Tibetan noble families and Tibetan lamas. This unique Central Asian relationship also formed the basis of later relations between Manchu emperors and successive Dalai Lamas. The ch_-y_n relationship itself was purely a personal one arising from the religious devotion of the Patron for the Priest and continued to exist even if the political status of the Patron changed. This was evident in the Mongol-Tibetan relationship, which continued to exist even after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty.

An essential element of the ch_-y_n relationship was the protection that the Patron provided his Lama in return, not for the latter's allegiance, but for his religious teachings and blessings. Some ch_-y_n relationships acquired important political dimensions and the Patron was expected to provide military support to protect the Lama and his Teaching or "church". Superiority of the protector was not implied, as the Chinese propaganda suggests, since the lay patron was the student and worshipper of his Lama.

When Buddhism became the State religion in the eastern part of the Mongol empire and the Sakya Lama (Phagpa) its highest spiritual authority, the Mongol-Tibetan relationship could be best described in terms of mutual interdependence. This concept provided for dual political and religious paramountcy of the worldly emperor and the spiritual leader on the basis of equality and interdependence. While the spiritual leader depended on the emperor for protection and for backing in ruling Tibet, the conquering emperor depended on the lama to provide the legitimacy for his rule of the Mongol Empire.

It is undeniable that Mongol Emperors spread their influence over Tibet. But, contrary to the assertion made in the Chinese White Paper that,"In the mid 13th century Tibet was officially incorporated into the territory of China's Yuan Dynasty", none of the Mongol rulers ever made any attempt to administer Tibet directly; Tibet did not even pay tax to the Mongol Empire, and it certainly was never considered part of China by the Mongol emperors.

Tibet broke its political relationship with the Mongols in 1350 when the Tibetan king, Jangchub Gyaltsen (reign: 1350-1364), replaced the Sakya Lamas as the most powerful ruler of Tibet. Jangchub Gyaltsen did away with Mongol influences in the Tibetan administrative system and introduced a new and distinctly Tibetan one. He also enacted a Code of Law (Trimyig Shelchey Cho-nga, 15 Article Code), for the administration of justice in the kingdom. The Chinese regained their independence from Mongol rule and established the Ming dynasty eighteen years after that.

Relations with Chinese Emperors (1368-1644)

The White Paper claims that the Chinese Ming Dynasty "replaced the Yuan Dynasty in China and inherited the right to rule Tibet". But, there is no historical basis for this assertion. As shown above, the relationship established between Mongol Khans or emperors and Tibetan lamas predated the Mongol conquest of China. Similarly, Tibet broke with the Mongol emperors before China regained its independence from them. The Chinese emperors of the Ming inherited no relationship from the Mongols. On the other hand, Mongol Khans continued to maintain their intensive religious and cultural ties with Tibetans, often in the form of ch_-y_n relationships, for centuries afterwards.

Even if the Mongols did exercise influence in Tibet, it is still too presumptious on the part of China to claim Mongol inheritence when an independent Outer Mongolia exists as the only legitimate representative of the Mongolian people and nation.

Contacts between Tibet and Ming China were scarce and largely limited to visits by individual lamas of various, sometimes rival, monasteries to China, and the granting of honorific imperial titles or gifts by the Chinese Emperor to them. These visits are recorded in Tibetan histories of the fifteenth to seventeenth century, but there is no evidence whatsoever of political subordination of Tibet or its rulers to China or the Ming emperors. In its White Paper, the Chinese Government alleges that these contacts with individual lamas demonstrate Ming authority in and over Tibet. But since Tibet was not ruled by any of those lamas, whatever the nature of their contacts may have been, they could not affect the independent status of Tibet.

From 1350, Tibet was ruled by the princes of Phagmodru and then, from about 1481, by the Rinpung dynasty. In 1406, the ruling Phagmodru prince, Dakpa Gyaltsen, turned down the Imperial invitation to him to visit China. This clearly shows the sovereign authority of Tibetan rulers at that time. From about 1565 until the rise to power of the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1642 (two years before the fall of the Ming Dynasty), the kings of Tsang ruled Tibet. There are indications of sporadic diplomatic relations between some of these rulers and Ming emperors, but the latter exercised neither authority nor influence over them.

In 1644, the Chinese emperors were once again overthrown by foreign conquerors. The Manchus succeeded in establishing their own imperial dynasty, which ruled over a large empire, the most important part of which was China. They called it the Qing Dynasty.

Relations with the Manchus (1639-1911)

In 1642, the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, with the help of his Mongol patron Gushri Khan, became the supreme political and religious ruler of unified Tibet. Since then, Tibetans accepted him as their "Gongsa Chenpo" or "The Supreme Sovereign". His prestige was recognised far beyond Tibet's borders.

The Fifth Dalai Lama not only maintained a close relationship with the Mongols but also developed close ties with the Manchu rulers. In 1639, before the Dalai Lama acquired supreme political power and also before the Manchu conquest of China and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty, Manchu Emperor Tai Tsung invited the Dalai Lama to his capital, Mukden (present-day Shenyang). Unable to accept the invitation personally, the Dalai Lama sent his envoy who was treated with great respect by the Emperor. Thus the Ch_-y_n relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Manchu rulers was established. As was true of the Tibetan relationship with the Mongol emperors, the links developed between Tibetans and the Manchu emperors did not involve China. As Owen Lattimore points out in reference to the Qing Dynasty, "What existed in fact was a Manchu Empire, of which China formed only one part." [Studies in Frontier History]

Having conquered China and annexed it to the Manchu empire, Emperor Shunzi invited the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1653 for a state visit to the Imperial capital. In an unprecedented sign of respect, the Manchu Emperor made a four-day journey outside his capital (Beijing) to receive the Tibetan sovereign and foremost spiritual leader of Central Asian Buddhists. Commenting on the Dalai Lama's visit, W.W. Rockhill, an American scholar and diplomat in China, wrote:

(The Dalai Lama) had been treated with all the ceremony which could have been accorded to any independent sovereign, and nothing can be found in Chinese works to indicate that he was looked upon in any other light; at this period of China's relations with Tibet, the temporal power of the Lama, backed by the arms of Gusri Khan and the devotion of all Mongolia, was not a thing for the Emperor of China to question. [The Dalai Lamas of Lhasa and Their Relations With Emperors of China, 1644-1908, T'oung Pao 11, 1910, p.37]

On this occasion, the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Manchu Emperor bestowed unprecedented high complimentary titles upon each other and the ch_-y_n relationship was reaffirmed. In the White Paper, the Chinese Government refers only to the honorific title given by the Emperor to the Dalai Lama, but conveniently leaves out any mention of the similar honorific title granted by the Dalai Lama to the Emperor.

Chinese propaganda infers that it was this deed by the Manchu Emperor which conferred the legal right to the Dalai Lama to rule Tibet. This interpretation intentionally misses the point of the event, namely that titles were exchanged by two sovereign leaders. If the Dalai Lama was dependent on his imperial title for the exercise of his authority, then so was the Manchu Emperor dependent on the title granted by the Dalai Lama for the exercise of his authority.

Throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) relations between Tibet and the Manchu emperors remained formally based on the ch_-y_n relationship. The Manchu Emperor readily responded to the appeals for help to drive out invading Dzungar Mongols and escort the newly discovered Seventh Dalai Lama to the Tibetan capital in 1720.

Manchu forces entered Tibet on three more times in the eighteenth century, once to protect Tibet against invading Gorkha forces from Nepal (1792), and twice to restore order after civil wars (1728 and 1751). Each time they came at the request of the Tibetans, and each time the ch_-y_n relationship was invoked.

The Manchus did succeed in establishing some degree of influence in Tibet during those crisis periods. But their influence declined rapidly afterwards, rendering them unable to play any role when Tibet fought wars against invaders from Jammu (1841- 1842), Nepal (1855-1856), and British India (1903-04). By the mid 19th century the Manchu Emperor's role (and the related role of the Amban) was only nominal.

The White Paper devotes considerable attention to Emperor Qianlong's so-called 29-article edict, or regulations, of 1793 concerning Tibet, and to the appointment of Ambans (ambassadors). It presents the "regulations" as if they were an imperial order proving extensive Manchu authority in Tibet. In reality, the 29 points were suggestions made by the Emperor for certain reforms of the Government of Tibet following its war with Nepal. The Ambans were not viceroys or administrators, but were essentially ambassadors appointed to look after Manchu interests, and to protect the Dalai Lama on behalf of the Emperor.

In 1792, the Gorkhas of Nepal invaded Tibet following a dispute between Tibet and Nepal and the Dalai Lama appealed to the Manchu Emperor for help. The Emperor sent a large army which helped Tibet drive out the Gorkhas, and mediated a treaty of peace between Tibet and Nepal. Since this was the fourth time the Emperor was asked to send troops to fight for the Tibetan Government, he wanted some say in Tibetan affairs in order to prevent Tibetans from becoming involved in conflicts which might again precipitate requests for Manchu military involvement. The "regulations" were suggestions made in the context of the Emperor's protector role, rather than an order from a ruler to his subjects. This emerges clearly from the statement made by the Imperial envoy and commander of the Manchu army, General Fu K'ang-an, to the Eighth Dalai Lama:

The Emperor issued detailed instructions to me, the Great General, to discuss all the points, one by one, in great length. This demonstrates the Emperor's concern that Tibetans come to no harm and that their welfare be ensured in perpetuity. There is no doubt that the Dalai Lama,acknowledging his gratitude to the Emperor, will accept these suggestions once all the points are discussed and agreed upon.However, if the Tibetans insist on clinging to their age-old habits, the Emperor will withdraw the Ambans and the garrison after the troops are pulled out. Moreover, if similar incidents occur in the future, the Emperor will have nothing to do with them. The Tibetans may, therefore, decide for themselves as to what is in their favour and what is not or what is heavy and what is light, and make a choice on their own. [Quoted from Ya Han Chang's Biography of the Dalai Lamas in Bod kyi Lo rGyus Rag Rim g-Yu Yi Preng ba, Vol 2, Published by Tibet Institute of Social Science, Lhasa, 1991, p.316]

Rather than accepting or rejecting the Emperor's points, Tibetans adopted some of the 29 points which were perceived to be beneficial to them, and disregarded those they thought to be unsuitable. As Panchen Choekyi Nyima, the predecessor of the Late Panchen Lama, said: "Where Chinese policy was in accordance with their own views, the Tibetans were ready to accept the Amban's advice; but ... if this advice ran counter in any respect to their national prejudices, the Chinese Emperor himself would be powerless to influence them. [Diary of Capt. O'Connor, 4 September 1903]

Among the important points of this "29-point edict" was the Emperor's proposal for the selection of great incarnate lamas, including the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas, by drawing lots from a golden urn. This important task, however, was the responsibility of the Tibetan Government and high lamas, who continued to select them according to religious traditions. Thus, already on the first occasion when the golden urn should have been employed, namely for the selection of the Ninth Dalai Lama in 1808, Tibetans disregarded it.

Another important point of this "edict" was the role of Ambans. The Amban's role resembled that of an ambassador, at times, and that of a Resident in a classical protectorate relationship, at other times. It is best understood in the explanation Amban Yu Tai gave in 1903 to Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of the Government of India (as reported by him) that, "he was only a guest in Lhasa not a master and he could not put aside the real masters, and as such he had no force to speak of." [Sir Mortimer Durand: A Biography, by Sir Percy Sykes, London 1926, p.166] In the same sense, two Lazarist missionaries, Huc and Gabet, who were in Lhasa in the mid-nineteenth century, described the position of the Ambans as follows: "the Government of Tibet resembles that of the Pope and the position occupied by the Chinese Ambassadors was the same as that of the Austrian Ambassador at Rome." [Decouverte du Thibet, 1845-1846, M. Huc, 1933, p.50] The reference to "Chinese Ambassadors" is a common mistake, because the Manchu Emperors were careful not to appoint Chinese Ambans but Manchus or Mongolians, a fact which stressed that the appointment of the Amban was also viewed in the context of the protector's role in the ch_-y_n relationship, a relationship from which the Chinese were excluded.

The unprecedented invasion of Tibet by Manchu troops in 1908 was a turning point in relations between Tibet and the Manchu Emperor. Previous imperial military expeditions had come to assist the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Government and at their invitation. But this time, the Manchu Emperor attempted to establish his authority in Tibet by force, largely in order to remove increasing British influence in Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to neighbouring India, and the occupation of Tibet was short-lived. When the Manchu Emperor tried to "depose" the Dalai Lama in 1910, the Dalai Lama declared the termination of the ch_- y_n relationship. The protector had attacked his Lama and thereby violated the very foundation of their relationship.

Resistance to the invasion succeeded when the Manchu Empire collapsed and Tibetans forced the occupying army to surrender. In the summer of 1912, Nepalese mediation between Tibet and China resulted in the conclusion of the "Three Point Agreement" providing for formal surrender and expulsion of all remaining Imperial troops. After returning to Lhasa, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama issued a proclamation reaffirming the independence of Tibet on 14 February 1913.

Relations with British India (1857-1911)

Since the end of the eighteenth Century, Britain developed a keen interest to open up trade with Tibet. Since all the Himalayan states which were closely linked to Lhasa had gradually been tied to British India by means of treaties and other agreements, Tibet feared it would also lose its independence if it did not resist British efforts to gain access to Tibet. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama steered Tibet on an independent course. This policy frustrated the British who feared, more than anything, a Russian infiltration into Tibet, which would tip the balance of power in Central Asia.

Unable to communicate effectively with Tibet, Britain approached the Manchu Court for assistance in forcing Tibet to cooperate. The result was the conclusion, without Tibet's participation or knowledge, of two treaties (1890 and 1893) between Britain and China which had provisions regarding Tibet.

The Tibetan Government rejected these treaties as ultra vires, and this precipitated the British invasion of Tibet in 1903. The Manchu Emperor did not come to the assistance of Tibet and, as noted by Amban Yu Tai, disclaimed any responsibility for the action of the Tibetans. British troops left Lhasa within a year, after concluding a bilateral treaty, the Lhasa Convention, with the Tibetan Government.

The provisions of the Lhasa Convention necessarily pre-supposed the unrestricted sovereignty of Tibet in internal and external matters, otherwise, Tibet could not legitimately have transferred to Britain the powers specified in the treaty. The Lhasa Convention did not even acknowledge the existence of any special relationship between the Manchu Emperor and Tibet and constituted an implicit recognition by Britain of Tibet as a state competent to conclude treaties.

In an effort to persuade China to cooperate, Britain convinced it to sign the Adhesion Agreement in 1906, once again, without participation of Tibet. That agreement and the 1907 agreement concluded between Britain and Russia, confirmed the existence of a sphere of British influence in Tibet and introduced the concept of Chinese "suzerainty" over Tibet, something neither Tibet, nor the Manchu Court accepted. In 1908, during Tibet's brief invasion by the Manchu army, Britain, once again, signed a treaty with the Manchus, with no independent Tibetan participation, concerning trade with Tibet.

Referring to the British concept of Suzerainty, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, explained:

Chinese suzerainty over Tibet is a constitutional fiction a political affectation which has only been maintained because of its convenience to both parties. ... As a matter of fact, the two Chinese (ie, Manchu) Ambans at Lhasa are there not as Viceroys, but as Ambassadors. [Papers CD 1920, No.66, GoI to IO, 8 Jan. 1903. India Office Library]

Relations with India

When India became independent in 1947, it took over the British diplomatic Mission in Lhasa, and inherited the treaty relations of Britain with Tibet. Its recognition of Tibet was clear from the official communication the Indian Government sent to the Tibetan Foreign Office:

The Government of India would be glad to have an assurance that it is the intention of the Tibetan Government to continue relations on the existing basis until new arrangements are reached on matters that either party may wish to take up. This is the procedure adopted by all other countries with which India has inherited treaty relations from His Majesty's Government. [Notes, Memoranda and Letters Exchanged and Agreements Signed by the Governments of India and China, Vol 2, 1959, p.39]


China's White Paper speaks about its alleged "ownership" of Tibet, it discusses broad issues relating to human rights, including social, economic and cultural rights, but does not address the fundamental question of the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination.

Under international law, populations which meet the criteria of "a people", possess the right to self-determination. Governments may not deny that right, and must act in accordance with it. In past decades, the right to self-determination has primarily been applied to colonial countries and peoples, but, particularly in recent years, the right has been applied outside the context of decolonisation also.

The Tibetan people clearly constitute a people under international law, as defined, among others, by the UNESCO International Meeting of Experts on Further Study of the Concept of the Rights of Peoples. It is difficult to conceive of a better example of a distinct people, with all the characteristics fulfilled: commonalities in history, language, culture, ethnicity and other manifestations of shared identity and experience; numerousness, ie, enough persons sharing common identity and experience to warrant recognition by the international community; the existence of institutions to give expression and effect to these commonalities; the will of a people to assert the right to self-determination.

The right to self-determination means the right of a people to "determine their own political status and to determine their economic, social and cultural development" free of outside interference. [International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, Art. 1; and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 1;] Tibetans have been denied the exercise of this right since their country's invasion and occupation by China. Under international law, the PRC has the obligation to permit its exercise.

The implementation of the right to self-determination can lead to integration with a state, association with a state or independence, but the choice must be made by the people exercising their right to self-determination. This choice must be made freely, without any interference from outside that people. Thus, it is for the Tibetan people alone, without interference from China, to make the choice.

The Dalai Lama has, for many years, called on China to agree on the holding of an internationally-supervised plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Tibetan people. This, indeed, is the most desirable approach, which is entirely in accordance with the requirements of international law and practice.

Recognition of Tibet's right to self-determination

In 1961, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 1723 (XVI), in which it explicitly recognised the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination. The UN called on the PRC to cease "practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination." Four years later, in 1965, the UN General Assembly expressly reaffirmed this resolution in UNGA Res. 2079 (XX).

Earlier, in 1959, the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, expressed his strong support for the Tibetan people's right to self-determination. Addressing the Lok Sabha, Lower House of Indian Parliament, he said, "the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and nobody else."

Recently, on two separate occasions, experts on the question of rights of peoples and international law met to consider the question of Tibet's claim to self-determination.

The Permanent Peoples Tribunal, which met in Strasbourg for a week to hear extensive testimony and arguments in November 1992, found that the Tibetans meet the generally accepted legal criteria of "a people" with the right to self-determination and "are therefore entitled to exercise the right to self- determination." The Tribunal concluded that "the presence of the Chinese administration on Tibetan territory must be considered as foreign domination of the Tibetan people." Finally, in its Verdict, the Tribunal decided that, "the Tibetan people have from 1950 been, continuously, deprived of their right to self- determination." [Session on Tibet, Verdict, Permanent Tribunal of Peoples, Strasbourg, 20 Nov., 1992, pp.15 and 23, resp.]

In an unrelated conference, several weeks later, thirty eminent international lawyers from many countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas among them some of the world's foremost authorities on self-determination met in London for four days, to consider issues relating to the exercise of the right to self- determination by the Tibetan people. After extensive consideration of evidence, including China's White Paper, and after a lively legal debate, the conference participants concluded, in a written Statement, that:

1. under international law the Tibetan people are entitled to the right to self-determination, that this right "belongs to the Tibetan people" and that "(i)t is not for the state apparatus of the PRC, or any other nation or state, to deny the Tibetan people's right to self-determination."

2. "(s)ince the military action of 1949-50, Tibet has been under the alien occupation and domination of the PRC and has been administered with the characteristics of an oppressive colonial administration."

3. "in the particular case of Tibet and having regard to its long history of separate existence," the Tibetan people's claim to self-determination, including independence, is compatible with the principles of national unity and territorial integrity of states. [International Lawyers' Statement on Tibet London 1993, London, 10 Jan. 1993, pp. 6-8].

The international conference statement called on the United Nations and the members of the international community urgently to take measures to promote an early implementation and realisation of the Tibetan people's right to self-determination.

In both discussions, that of the Peoples' Tribunal and that of the International Lawyer's Conference, the points of view of the Chinese Government, in particular as expressed in the White Paper, were discussed at length and fully considered. The Chinese Government was invited to participate in both events, but declined to do so. It did, however, submit to the meetings for consideration the White Paper and numerous other publications stating its point of view and arguments.


The Tibetan people undoubtedly possess the right to self- determination, by virtue of which Tibetans have the right to determine their political status and their economic, social and cultural development. Even if self-determination is primarily applicable to peoples under colonial domination or occupation, Tibetans fully qualify. The time has come for the PRC to accept its international obligations and to agree to the holding of a plebiscite in Tibet under international supervision.