397. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Gyalo Thondup’s Calls on Mr. Murphy and Mr. Parsons;
  • U.S. Attitude Toward Tibet


  • Dr. George K.C. Yeh, Ambassador, Chinese Embassy
  • Mr. J. Graham Parsons, Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. Edwin W. Martin, Director, Office of Chinese Affairs

Mr. Parsons said that he wanted to tell Ambassador Yeh about the calls which the Dalai Lama’s brother and representative, Gyalo Thondup, had made on Under Secretary Murphy and himself last week.1 There was one thing of particular policy importance which had transpired [Page 801] during these calls. The United States had made a decision to go somewhat beyond its previous position with regard to Tibet, namely, that it is an autonomous country under the suzerainty of China. In making this decision the United States had been mindful of the statement on Tibetan self-determination made by President Chiang on March 262 and reiterated by Ambassador T.F. Tsiang in the United Nations debate last month. In line with this decision, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Parsons had informed Gyalo Thondup that the United States Government was prepared to apply the principle of self-determination to the people of Tibet. The United States wished, however, to keep this position confidential until it had been communicated formally to the Dalai Lama and until the Governments of the Republic of China, of the United Kingdom, and of India had been informed. After that the United States would be prepared to make its position public at some appropriate time.

Mr. Parsons pointed out that we had taken this decision as a step toward keeping the Tibetan issue alive before the world. He emphasized that the United States, of course, had at no time recognized Chinese Communist claims to Tibet or the agreement of 1951 which the Peiping regime made with the Tibetans.

Ambassador Yeh said that he would report this decision of the United States to his Government. He asked whether we had some particular occasion in mind on which to make our position public, and whether the Dalai Lama would first reveal it and the United States then confirm it. Mr. Parsons replied that we had no fixed idea as to when the statement might be made or in what manner. Ambassador Yeh asked whether our intention was simply to state that the principle of self-determination should apply to Tibet, or whether we would say that after a certain day the United States would recognize the sovereignty of Tibet. Mr. Parsons answered that our intention was the former, i. e., to support the principle of self-determination for Tibet. He pointed out that Thondup had not said that his brother was planning to set up a government-in-exile. If he had indicated such an intention, we would in all probability have sought to discourage him from such a course. Mr. Parsons remarked on the sensitivity which Thondup had shown as to the feelings of the Indian Government and its attitude toward Tibet.

Ambassador Yeh asked whether Thondup had raised the problem of aid to the Tibetans. Mr. Parsons said that in his conversation with Thondup the latter had raised the question of aid only with regard to refugees and students. Mr. Parsons asked Mr. Martin whether the subject had come up in Thondup’s conversation with Mr. Murphy. Mr. Martin replied that (as Ambassador Yeh had anticipated in an earlier conversation with Mr. Murphy last week) Thondup had raised with Mr. Murphy [Page 802] the need of the Tibetans for arms aid. Mr. Martin pointed out, however, that other than to ask a question or two as to what the Tibetans would do with arms assistance, Mr. Murphy had made no reply to Thondup’s request.

Mr. Parsons mentioned that Thondup had asked to see the Secretary but that no appointment had been arranged for him.

Ambassador Yeh then discussed at some length the call which Thondup, and the other two members of his party, had paid on him on October 30. Thondup had expressed gratification for the help which the Chinese Government had given to the Tibetans. He had recalled the conversation he had had with Dr. Yeh in 1951, when Dr. Yeh was Chinese Foreign Minister, during which the subject of Tibetan independence was discussed. At that time Ambassador Yeh had told Thondup the Tibetans would have to work for their independence.

According to Dr. Yeh, Thondup told him that Mr. Murphy had supported Tibetan independence in principle. Mr. Parsons interjected that Mr. Murphy had dealt only with the principle of self-determination and had done this only briefly. When Thondup called on Mr. Parsons on October 31, he mentioned this to Mr. Parsons and asked for further explanation. Mr. Parsons had therefore presented our position on self-determination in more detail.3 Mr. Martin remarked that he had been present during both conversations, and that neither Mr. Murphy nor Mr. Parsons had used the word independence at any time. Ambassador Yeh indicated that he had advised Thondup to thank the United States for the sympathy which it had shown to the Tibetans and for its support in the United Nations.

Ambassador Yeh said that Thondup had asked for a clearer Chinese Government declaration in favor of Tibetan independence. Thondup had said that if such a declaration were forthcoming the Dalai Lama could deal more openly, and have closer relations, with the GRC. Ambassador Yeh had replied to Thondup that President Chiang had already exceeded his powers in making his declaration of last March regarding self-determination for Tibet. Under the Chinese constitution only the [Page 803] legislative branch of the government had the power to make any decisions which would change the territorial limits of China. It would take a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly to bring this about, and there was no chance that such a vote would be forthcoming at present—not because of opposition to Tibetan self-determination but because of the reluctance of the National Assembly to make such a decision when the government was not in control of the mainland. However, he had assured Thondup that President Chiang’s declaration was of great significance because it not only supported the aspirations of the Tibetan people for self-determination but in effect was a promise of future political independence.

In this connection Ambassador Yeh advised Thondup to tell his brother Norbu that he should not make such statements as he had been making on the West Coast—that Tibetans were hostile to all Chinese. That statement would do the Tibetan cause no good. The Tibetans should make a distinction between non-Communist and Communist Chinese. They should confine their hostility to the Chinese Communists and not be “anti-Han.” The Ambassador said that he had recalled to Thondup that the atrocities committed against the Tibetans in the early part of this century were the doing of a Manchu general, who was subsequently condemned for these atrocities by the Chinese.

Ambassador Yeh said that he had given Thondup two pieces of advice. One was that the Dalai Lama should preserve his status as a spiritual leader. He was recognized throughout the world in this capacity. He would lose his status if he were to move to the United States. He should remain in India. In answer to a question from Thondup, Ambassador Yeh had indicated that visits by the Dalai Lama to Asian countries would be a good thing, especially if they were to Buddhist countries, but he should be sure that he could return to India. The second piece of advice which Ambassador Yeh had given to Thondup was to keep alive the resistance forces within Tibet. According to Dr. Yeh, Thondup had told him that the Dalai Lama could count on 40 to 50,000 fighting men, about one-third of whom were in India. Ambassador Yeh suggested that the Tibetans should endeavor to obtain arms wherever they could be bought in order to continue guerilla activities.

Dr. Yeh said that he was surprised to learn from Thondup that the Dalai Lama did not bring out any treasures from Tibet and consequently was very hard up financially. When asked who was supporting the Dalai Lama at present, Thondup had replied that all his support was coming from the Indian Government. Ambassador Yeh said that he had warned Thondup (who had made many disparaging remarks about Nehru) not to be too hard on Nehru, because if Nehru were to fall there would be chaos in India and a good chance of the Communists coming to power.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793B.00/11–359. Secret. Drafted by Martin.
  2. See Document 396. A conversation between Parsons and Thondup on October 31 is recorded in a memorandum of conversation of that date. (Department of State, Central Files, 793B.00/10–3159; see Supplement)
  3. See Document 367.
  4. According to the memorandum of conversation cited in footnote 1 above, Parsons “noted that the historical position of the United States on Tibet hitherto has been to consider Tibet an autonomous country under the suzerainty of China. However, it was also the traditional policy of the American people to support the principle of self-determination for all peoples. This was why the United States believed the Tibetans entitled to have the controlling voice in their own affairs and felt that it could at an appropriate time make a public declaration of its support for the self-determination of the Tibetan people. We envisaged that two steps would have to be taken before such a declaration were made. The Dalai Lama would be formally notified of our position, and three foreign governments, those of the Republic of China, India and the United Kingdom, would be informed of our intention. After these things had been done we could then make a public statement when a suitable opportunity presented itself.”