693.0031 Tibet/8–2147

The Ambassador in India (Grady) to the Secretary of State

No. 142

Subject: Additional Background on Tibetan Trade Mission; Questions Regarding Policy Toward Tibet.

Sir: With reference to my secret despatch No. 100 dated August 1, 1947, on the subject “Tibetan Trade Mission; Plans for Washington Visit; Political Background”, I have the honor to transmit for the information of the Department excerpts from a personal letter dated August 4, from Mr. A. J. Hopkinson, Political Officer, Sikkim, to T. Eliot Weil, Second Secretary of Embassy, Delhi.

It will be noted that Mr. Hopkinson states that the Tibetan Trade Mission has been considering leaving Lhasa in August, but that nothing more definite has been learned in Gangtok; that Shagapa [Shakabpa] is “an intelligent man”; that other members of the mission have not yet been definitely named; that he now understands Pangda Tshang6 does not want to make the trip; and that so far as he has been able to gather the chief object of the mission will be to obtain gold and possibly silver. Mr. Hopkinson also states that Shagapa has been trying for over a year to accumulate 10, 000 tolas (about 4, 000 ounces) of gold, perhaps mainly “for the joy of the chase” and that he (Hopkinson) is afraid that “a gold rush and all that it implies” will undermine Tibet’s “simplicity and sincerity and its adherence to its own culture”.

[Page 599]

While the last view might be interpreted as an effort on the part of a British official to discourage closer relations between the United States and Tibet, the officer of the Embassy receiving the letter believes Mr. Hopkinson is expressing a sincere opinion, since in the course of an acquaintance of a year and a half with the officer in question Mr. Hopkinson has made it quite clear that as an individual he favors the strengthening of friendly relations between the United States and the people of Tibet.

[Here follow excerpts from Mr. Hopkinson’s letter.]

Treatment of Mission in Washington

While it may be assumed that such arrangements as the Tibetan Trade Mission might make in Washington would be of small significance vis-à-vis the foreign trade of the United States in general, and while Shakabpa may have a direct personal interest in the negotiations he hopes to carry out, I feel that members of the Mission, if they reach Washington, should be treated with the utmost courtesy; and that the Chinese Embassy should not be permitted to interfere with friendly contact between the Tibetans and the Department.

As has been reported in previous despatches from this Embassy, the Tibetan Government has on several occasions during the past year and a half shown a genuine desire to develop friendly relations with the United States, and I feel it would be to our advantage to reciprocate. While I am aware of the Department’s strong desire to avoid offending the Chinese Government by taking any action which the latter might choose to interpret as a reflection on its claim to sovereignty over Tibet, I feel that our Government should not throw away its unique opportunity to strengthen the friendly feelings which the Tibetans have exhibited.

Importance of Tibet

It has been pointed out in a number of earlier despatches that Tibet’s position as a vast island in Asia still apparently unaffected by Soviet influence cannot safely be ignored, and it is an area which in the future might prove extremely useful for military operations. While the War Department’s Plans and Operations Division may believe that under present conditions of warfare, the Tibetan plateau would not readily lend itself to development as a base if the necessity arose in the immediate future, it occurs to me that in the course of the next ten or fifteen years there might conceivably be developments in logistics which would render the Tibetan plateau extremely important for military operations at a time when China and India might be in a state of chaos.

So far as the attitude of the War Department toward the practicability [Page 600] of utilizing Tibet as a base at some time in the future is concerned, it would be interesting to know how many Army officers in 1935 would have taken seriously a prediction that ten years later a single aerial bomb could be utilized to demolish a city.

Policy Toward Tibet

In this connection it would be helpful to the Embassy to know whether the Department has reached any further conclusions regarding our policy toward Tibet. It will be recalled that in the policy statement on China, transmitted to the Embassy under cover of the Department’s secret instruction No. 581 dated October 28, 1946,7 it was stated that “the United States and China both regard Tibet as an integral part of China” and that in the Embassy’s despatch to the Department No. 869 dated December 38 on the subject “Policy on Status of Tibet: Desirability of Continuing Non-Committal Attitude”, the Embassy pointed out that in the Department’s aide-mémoire to the British Embassy dated May 15, 1943,9 the Department had stated that our Government had “at no time raised a question” regarding either the British or the Chinese claims and that no useful purpose would be served by opening at that time a detailed discussion of the status of Tibet.

It will also be recalled that in the despatch under reference the Embassy inquired whether the policy statement in question represented a change in our official attitude toward Tibet. Since the Embassy has not seen a policy statement on China since it received the one under reference, it is not yet clear whether the statement of policy transmitted last October still holds.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Howard Donovan

Counsellor of Embassy
  1. Prominent Tibetan trader.
  2. Not printed; it enclosed a Policy and Information Statement on China, dated October 1, 1946, on page 22 of which was the following: “Great Britain has long manifested a special interest in Tibet, and has exercised a considerable political influence there. As the U. S. and China both regard Tibet as an integral part of China, British attempts to prevent the exercise of Chinese sovereignty over that area or to change its political status would constitute a source of friction in Sino-British relations and could not fail to be of concern to the U. S.”
  3. Not printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1943, China, p. 630.