693.0031 Tibet/8–248

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Chinese Affairs (Freeman)

Participants: Mr. Tsepon Shakabpa, Leader of the Tibetan Trade Mission
Mr. Unda Surkang, Member of the Mission
Interpreter of the Mission
Mr. Freeman, CA

I called this evening on Mr. Shakabpa, Leader of the Tibetan Trade Mission, for the purpose of discussing the Mission’s request that they be permitted to make a courtesy call on President Truman. I opened the conversation by informing Mr. Shakabpa, through the interpreter, that the Department had received a request from the Chinese Embassy for an appointment for the Mission members with President Truman at which time the Mission would be accompanied and introduced to the President by Ambassador Koo. I stated that it was my understanding that they were planning to leave shortly for New York and I was therefore coming to enquire their approximate departure date so that an appointment might be arranged.

Mr. Shakabpa implied that he was very appreciative that the Department was endeavoring to arrange for the Mission to meet the President, but he stated that it would not be necessary for them to be accompanied by the Chinese Ambassador. He explained that the Mission was a commercial one, that there were no political motives to their trip and that the purpose of their intended call on the President was simply to greet him in the name of Tibet and to present him with certain letters and photographs which they had brought from the Dalai Lama and from the Regent. The letters, he stated, were solely on the subject of Tibetan-American trade and would in no way embarrass this Government by their receipt. He added that it was therefore immaterial whether their visit with the President was a formal or an informal call, but he intimated that they would not consent to the attendance of Ambassador Koo.

I informed Mr. Shakabpa that the Department was conscious of the feelings of the Tibetans with regard to this matter, but pointed out some of the reasons why it would probably not be feasible to arrange the call under any other circumstances. I stated that, despite the large degree of autonomy that existed in Tibet, the U. S. Government had traditionally recognized and continued to recognize the de jure sovereignty of China, with whom we maintained the most cordial relations. The Chinese Ambassador, I continued, was the [Page 771] recognized diplomatic representative of their country and it was therefore in accordance with customary procedure for him to accompany the Mission in its formal call on the Chief of State.

Mr. Shakabpa referred in his reply to the treatment which had been accorded Dolon and Tolstoy on their trip to Tibet in 194317 and stated that the Chinese authorities were not consulted when they called on the Dalai Lama and presented letters from President Roosevelt. He said that when the Mission visited India and Hong Kong they were received by the highest officials in those places without requiring the presence of Chinese diplomatic or consular officials, and he saw no reason why they should establish an “unfortunate precedent” in the United States. He again requested that the Department arrange an “informal visit” with the President and thus avoid the necessity of bringing in the Chinese Embassy.

I explained that the question of a formal or informal call was not the issue; that all appointments with the President were treated with almost equal formality and given equal prominence in the press; and that, in view of the interest shown by the Chinese Embassy in endeavoring to arrange the appointment, the exclusion of the Chinese Ambassador would be a needless cause of embarrassment to the Chinese Government. I stated that the Department would regret exceedingly to have the Mission depart from the United States without having seen the President, but I again pointed out that to arrange an appointment in any other way would be very difficult if not impossible.

Following a long and rather heated discussion in Tibetan between Mr. Shakabpa and Mr. Surkang, the former informed me doubtfully that he would have to discuss the question with the two absent members of the Mission, but he implied that he was not very optimistic of a favorable response.

At this point I suggested that after the Mission had seen the President in the company of the Chinese Ambassador, it might be possible to arrange for a private appointment with Secretary Marshall at which time the Chinese Ambassador need not necessarily attend. In response to Mr. Shakabpa’s pertinent question I stated that such a private appointment with the Secretary would probably not be feasible unless they had already called on the President in the company of Ambassador Koo, as their first call on a high American official would attract considerably more attention than their second and it would be considered appropriate by the Chinese to have an Embassy official in attendance.

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The Tibetans gave evidence of considerable relief over this last suggestion and intimated that under these conditions they might be willing to call on the President with Ambassador Koo. Mr. Shakabpa stated, however, that it would still be necessary for him to consult with the other members of the Mission and that he would give me their final reply in the morning. He added that the Mission had made an appointment with Mr. Woodward for the following afternoon to discuss the question of seeing the President and that, in view of our discussion, he would appreciate it if I would cancel that appointment.

  1. For correspondence on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1943, China, pp. 620 ff.