The Ambassador in India (Henderson) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 19.]
Subject: American Policy Towards Tibet
Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s despatch no. 250, dated March 23, 19499 on the subject “Report on Buddhist Areas on India’s Northern Frontier with Particular Reference to Tibet” and to submit for the consideration of the Department, and particularly of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs and the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, some tentative observations regarding American policies toward Tibet.
The American Economic Stake in Tibet
Present American economic interests in Tibet are of little importance. Some Tibetan products—musk, furs, skins, yak tails and particularly wool—find their way to the United States through India. Wool is by far the most important of these products and, while exact information regarding the quantity of Tibetan wool which is shipped from Calcutta to the United States is not available, the leader of the Tibetan Trade Mission estimated that annual value of exports of Tibetan wool to the United States is approximately $2,000,000. Limited quantities of goods manufactured in the United States find their way into Tibet, also by way of India. The quantities of these products, however, are almost infinitesimal.
There is no information available regarding mineral resources of Tibet. Even if it should be found that there are mineral resources of importance in Tibet, it would be almost impossible to exploit them in view of the opposition which their exploitation would arouse among the conservative superstition-ridden Tibetan people.[Page 1072]
Relationship Between American Policy Toward Tibet and the Establishment of a Communist-Dominated Government in China
According to the latest information available to the Embassy, the United States policy toward Tibet is defined as the recognition by the United States of Chinese sovereignty over the country. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the adoption of this policy was our desire to strengthen the Chinese Government, in view of the strong ties of friendship between the United States and China, and forestall in so far as it would be possible for us to do so the fragmentation of greater China which would result if Sinkiang and Tibet were to be recognized or treated as independent political units.
I am not certain that the foregoing policy is best adapted to further American interests if the Communists are successful in their efforts to obtain control of the Chinese Government. It might well be asked if the interests of the United States will be substantially affected if the present Government of Tibet is superseded by a Communist government, or if a Communist-dominated China is able to establish control over Tibet. Proponents of the argument that what happens in Tibet is of little importance to the United States could point to the fact that our economic interests in the country are negligible, that it has a population of only about five million, that nothing is known of its resources, and that the country would possibly, or even probably, not lend itself to development as a base for military operations against the U.S.S.R.
Although the foregoing arguments possess a certain amount of validity, I feel that the extension of Communist control over Tibet would adversely affect the over-all position of the United States versus world Communism. In the first place, a Communist-controlled Tibet would constitute a serious threat to the non-Communist areas of Southern Asia and particularly to India. Under present treaty arrangements between India and Tibet, Tibetans are permitted to enter India with no travel documents whatsoever. Consequently, if a Communist Government is established in Tibet, the country will provide a base of great value for Communist agents to infiltrate into India. Moreover, the frontier between India and Tibet is long and ill-defined and it would be impossible for the Government of India, even if it had the best intentions in the world, to prevent the entry of Communist agents from Tibet into India. Finally, if the Communists are able to secure control of the Dalai Lama, their chances of consolidating their hold over the peoples of Central Asia will be greatly strengthened in view of the reverence paid to the Dalai Lama by many of the Central Asian Buddhists, not only in Tibet but also in other areas such as Mongolia, Sinkiang and northwest China.[Page 1073]
In the light of the foregoing conclusions it is suggested that the Department give consideration to the advisability of establishing some sort of contact with the Government of Tibet. It might be desirable to establish this contact in the near future in view of the rapidity with which political conditions in China and other parts of Asia are evolving. Moreover, if we make no effort to demonstrate a friendly interest in Tibet until a Communist dominated regime consolidates its hold on China, the impression will be created among the Tibetans that we were moved only by a desire to contain Communism and not to develop cordial relations with the Tibetan people.
Counselor of Embassy
- Not printed.↩