The British Foreign Office to the British Embassy in Washington

My telegram No. 301 Saving of 1942 (of 15th August: Tibet).2

Chinese insistence on treating Tibet as a vassal state and the determination of the Tibetans to safeguard their independence have continued to prevent the establishment of a pack supply route and have hampered recent attempts on our part to arrange matters on a commercial basis through Tibetan merchants without raising political issues.

In early March the Tibetan Government held up all goods transiting the country from India and destined for the Chinese Government pending a settlement of the transport problem in accordance with their earlier stipulations, i.e. no warlike stores to be carried, no Chinese supervisors on the route, and a tripartite agreement including the Government of India guaranteeing observance of these conditions. Government of India continued to urge on Tibetan Government, who have now agreed, that civil supplies for China should be permitted to pass provided the Chinese Government refrained from sending inspectors or communication experts to Tibet.
Meanwhile it would seem that Chiang Kai-shek became exasperated at what he regarded as Tibetan intransigeance and decided to adopt a threatening attitude. Reports have been received from various sources that he has ordered the concentration of Chinese forces at widely separated points near the Tibetan border allegedly for the reassertion of Chinese influence in Tibet, although they may also be connected with manoeuvres for strengthening Central Government’s influence in Western Szechuan.
An American officer3 recently returned from Sining has stated that he was informed by the Secretary of the Chinese Governor of the Ching Hai province that the latter had received orders from Chiang Kai-shek to prepare for an attack by the Tibetans. The Governor was alleged to have sent 10,000 troops to the border and there was also a story that the Japanese were sending munitions to the Tibetans who were preparing airfields for the Japanese.4
The Tibetan Government have also complained to our representative in Lhasa of warlike preparations by the Chinese and have appealed to His Majesty’s Government for assistance. Our obligations to the Tibetan Government require that we give them diplomatic support against any Chinese military aggression (see my telegram No. 3884 of 1942). His Majesty’s Ambassador at Chungking has therefore been instructed to inform the Chinese Government that we have been approached by the Tibetan Government regarding the alleged Chinese military movements and to ask for a confirmation of our assumption that these reports are without foundation. If the Chinese Government admit the military preparations and justify them on the ground that the Tibetans are preparing to attack or are permitting Japanese activities in their territory, Sir H. Seymour is to express incredulity and to undertake to obtain assurances from the Tibetan Government on the subject. He is to ask that pending their receipt Chinese troop movements be stopped. His Majesty’s Ambassador has been directed not to link his communication with the transport question but to deal with the latter separately if the Chinese raise it.
In the meantime His Majesty’s Representative at Lhasa is being instructed to ask the Tibetan Government for a denial of aggressive intentions and an assurance that they will allow no Japanese activity in their territory.
Please explain the situation to the United States Government and request their support in deterring the Chinese Government from aggressive action against Tibet, if this is indeed contemplated. Apart from other obvious reasons it would have the most serious results on Sino-British relations since, in view of our commitments to the Tibetans, it would be intolerable for India to be used as a source or channel of war supplies to China for an attack on Tibet.
  1. For text of a telegram of August 15, 1942, from the British Foreign Office to the British Embassy in Washington, transmitted to the Department of State on August 27, 1942, on the subject of the establishment of a supply route to China through Tibet and the British attitude toward the status of Tibet, see Foreign Relations, 1942, China, p. 630.
  2. Apparent reference to Lt. S. H. Hitch, Assistant Naval Attaché in China.
  3. The information contained in this telegram also reached the Department of State through the British Embassy and prompted an exchange of telegrams between the Department and the Chargé in China. See telegrams 633, May 18, 1943, to Chungking and 777, May 25, 1943, from Chungking, Foreign Relations, 1943, China, pp. 632633. For additional documentation regarding the efforts to establish a supply route to China through Tibet and the attitude of the United States toward the status of Tibet, see ibid., pp. 620 ff.