The British Embassy to the Department of State


On the 15th March, Mr. Eden10 had a conversation in Washington with Dr. T. V. Soong11 during the course of which the latter raised the question of Tibet. Dr. Soong said that Mr. Eden would doubtless be aware of the fact that the Government of China had always regarded Tibet as a part of the Republic, and that during his visit to [Page 627] India Chiang Kai-shek12 had not been wholly reassured by what he had learnt of the attitude of the Government of India on this question. The Generalissimo had said that when a suggestion had been made for opening up a route through Tibet to China, the British Government had appeared reluctant to agree. Mr. Eden replied that his impression was that the reluctance referred to was caused by the physical difficulties involved and not by any political ones. As, however, Mr. Eden was not sufficiently fully or recently briefed on this subject, the point was not discussed further.

On receipt of an account of the above conversation the Viceroy13 has telegraphed from New Delhi giving the facts on the Tibetan question and adding his comments on Dr. Soong’s remarks regarding firstly, Tibet’s position on the map of Asia, and secondly, the attitude of the Government of India to trans-Tibetan communications. Lord Linlithgow adds that he does not consider that Dr. Soong’s remarks represent accurately the real position, which is briefly as follows.

I. Tibet acknowledged the suzerainty of the Manchu Empire: when, however, that Empire fell the Tibetans expelled the Chinese troops that were at that time in Lhasa and secured the return of the Dalai Lama from China [India?]. In 1913 a Tripartite Conference was held in Simla between representatives of Tibet and of the Chinese and British Governments in an endeavour to resolve the existing differences relating both to the constitutional position as between China and Tibet and to the boundaries separating Tibet from India and China. The resulting convention, which was initialled by the delegates of all three parties, recognised that Tibet was under the suzerainty of China but acknowledged the autonomy of Outer Tibet. The convention was ratified by Tibet and the Government of India; the Chinese Republic, however, declined to ratify and the Tibetan attitude has subsequently been that, in view of this Chinese refusal, Tibet is not bound to admit Chinese suzerainty and is an entirely independent state. In 1934 the Chinese Government sent Huang Mu Sung to Lhasa on a mission of condolence on the death of the thirteenth Dalai Lama; through Huang Tibet was offered a settlement of the boundary issue in return for Tibetan acceptance of subordination to China, with Chinese control of Tibet’s foreign relations. This overture the Tibetan Government rejected. Shortly before the installation of the new Dalai Lama in 1940 the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs,14 explaining the intention to send a Chinese representative to the ceremonies, stated that: “The representative has been instructed by the Chinese Government to say that China would at all times be ready [Page 628] to help Tibet, if Tibet desired it, but that China promised not to interfere in the development of Tibet along Tibetan lines”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also said: “The Tibetan Government must not continue to think that China has any bad intentions towards Tibet”. The British representative who attended the ceremonies was instructed to inform the Tibetan Government of these statements of the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Ever since the abortive 1913 Convention the attitude of the Government of India has been that they wished to secure agreement between China and Tibet and were willing to advise the Tibetan Government to admit formal Chinese suzerainty, although such an admission would in no sense constitute Tibet a Province of China. The Government of India have always held that Tibet is a separate country in full enjoyment of local autonomy, entitled to exchange diplomatic representatives with other powers. The relationship between China and Tibet is not a matter which can be unilaterally decided by China, but one on which Tibet is entitled to negotiate, and on which she can, if necessary, count on the diplomatic support of the British Government along the lines shown above.

II. On the question of trans-Tibetan communications, Lord Linlithgow recalls that, for purely practical reasons of geography and meteorology, the Government of India was unable to encourage the Chinese suggestion of building a highway from Western Szechuan through Eastern Tibet to Assam—a project which, if not entirely impossible, would have taken years to complete. It should on the other hand be recalled that the initiative for the organisation for a pack route from Kalimpong via Central Tibet to China was taken by the Government of India. In spite of two rebuffs from Lhasa, the Government of India persisted and was finally successful. The Chinese Government on the other hand, although their representative in Lhasa was kept informed of these negotiations, made no effort to participate in them: when the time came to work out practical details the Chinese Government made certain stipulations in regard to supervision of this route by Chinese officials, stipulations which the Tibetan Government were unable to accept. The Chinese Government moreover opposed any form of tripartite agreement in which the British Government would participate. In spite of this attitude taken up by the Chinese Government, the Government of India did not cease to exhort the Chinese Commissioner in India to continue his efforts to despatch goods to China via Tibet through trade channels, and promised all assistance from the Indian end. Lack of further progress has been due to the unforthcoming attitude of the Chinese and to the Tibetan Government’s suspicion of Chinese intentions.

  1. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  2. Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, President of the Chinese Executive Yuan (Premier), visited India in February 1942.
  4. Marquess of Linlithgow.
  5. Wang Chung-hui.