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China and Tibet: A Tortuous Relationship Ignored by the World

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler well as an amateur astrologer who loves to visit and explore new places.



Tibet is a country that is located in central Asia. It is a plateau with an average height of 11,000 feet above MSL. On one side it is bounded by the Himalayas which form an effective barrier with India and on the other side, it slopes down to China. Both India and China have a long association with Tibet. The spread of Buddhism to Tibet was from India and the holiest shrine of the Hindus at Mount Kailash is located inside Tibet.

China has always claimed Tibet but for long periods the Tibetans were free of Chinese rule. There is no record of direct rule by China over Tibet but at various periods in history, the Tibetan rulers paid tribute to the Chinese emperor.

The equation between India, Tibet, and China changed when the British took over the administration of India. In the late 19th century the British were scared that the Russians would take over Tibet. This was after the expansion of the Russian Empire into Central Asia. The British decided to present the Russians with a fait accompli and accordingly, in 1903-04 a military expedition under General Younghusband was launched. The British Indian army consisting of Sikhs and Punjabis after a tortuous military campaign occupied Lhasa. The campaign lasted over a year due to the inhospitable terrain. The Dalai Lama fled to Sinkiang and the Chinese stripped him of all his powers.

The Chinese made no attempt to come to the rescue of ticket Tibet, mainly because they were themselves defeated in the opium wars with the British and the Boxer rebellion against the Western powers had failed. The treaty of Lasha was signed which gave independence to Tibet from China and at the same time allowed the British to maintain troops at five different places in Tibet.

The arrangement was further codified by the Simla agreement of 1913, which was attended by representatives from Tibet and China. This is a significant agreement as the British demarcated the border of India with Tibet in the east by what has come to be known as the MacMohan line. In the West, the state of Ladakh and Aksai Chin was made a part of the British Empire.

This arrangement continued till 1947 when British rule lapsed in India. The Indian state under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who became prime minister inherited all the liabilities and responsibilities of the British Raj vis-a-vis Tibet.

Nothing much happened for two years as China was in the grip of a civil war between the Communist-led by Mao-Tse-Tung and the Nationalists who were backed by the Americans and led by General Chang Kai Shek. Mao proved to be the more adept leader and won the Civil War. Hundreds of nationalist leaders loyal to Chiang-Kai-Shek were executed. A defeated Chiang escaped to Formosa where he set up his government with the support of the Americans.

Nehru was not alive to the danger of China and in a foolish gesture, India was the first country to recognize the Communist regime of Mao-Tse-Tung. Mao however was a very shrewd leader. In a secret address to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, he brought out the fact that Tibet was a part of China and must be "integrated" with the mother country.

Happier Times 1954

Happier Times 1954

Dalai Lama enters India 1959

Dalai Lama enters India 1959

China Occupies Tibet

In 1950, the People's Liberation Army was ordered by the Central Committee to attack Tibet. There was not much resistance from the ragtag Tibet Army and the Chinese quickly occupied the whole of Tibet. Prior to this invasion, Nehru who was living in a world that was long past had decided that the imperialistic policy of Britain would no longer be pursued. He had withdrawn Indian troops from Tibet and the Chinese had a free run. At that time the Indian home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote a letter to Nehru to send the Indian Army to oppose the Chinese in Tibet. He pointed out that not doing so would bring a perpetual danger to the borders of India.

Nehru in his anti-imperialist zeal paid no heed to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and allowed the Chinese army to annex Tibet. He was lucky as Sardar Patel suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1950. Had Patel survived the history of Tibet would have been very different from what it is today.

The Chinese consolidated their hold over Tibet and forced the Tibetans to sign the 17 point agreement of integration with China. This was a one-sided agreement and allowed the Chinese to permeate into all parts of the best in life. The Indians who had a consulate in Lhasa were greatly restricted. In addition unknown to Nehru the Chinese occupied the entire Aksai Chin as well.

The Chinese now began to "educate" the Tibetans in communist philosophy and power passed from the Dalai Lama to the hands of the commander of the People's Liberation Army in Tibet. There had to be a backlash and the Tibetan people revolted against Chinese rule. No help was forthcoming from India and President Eisenhower who was the US president at that time was keen to help the Tibetan independence cause. With an obdurate Nehru who would not allow America to intervene, lead to enter Tibet passing into the hands of China and the revolt was crushed. The Chinese took a terrible revenge on the Tibetans and 80,000 of them were executed. in addition, 1000,000 refugees fled to India.

In 1959 a secret plan was made in the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army to invite the Dalai Lama to a function in the army camp. The Dalai Lama was requested not to bring his bodyguards. This alerted the Dalai Lama and his supporters and a decision were taken to escape to India. That very night the Dalai Lama and horses and mules loaded with as much of gold and silver as they could carry escaped from the Potala Palace to the Indian border. After a 14 day trek, the Dalai Lama and his party reached India.

The political officer on the border had telegraphed Delhi and the matter was put up to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. For once Nehru took a strong decision and give political asylum to the Dalai Lama.

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The Chinese were furious at the escape of the Dalai Lama and many llamas and guards of the Patola Palace were executed. In addition, Mao blew the bugle against India. In a secret address to the Central Committee, Mao declared that the time had come to teach Nehru a lesson.

Nehru was more the philosopher than the political leader. In his dream, he never expected that China would turn on him. Nehru was the man who had introduced the Chinese Prime Minister Chou-En -Lai at the 1955 Bandung conference. He was the man who had given respectability to China yet China began to publish maps that showed the eastern border with the Mac Mohan line as undemarcated and Aksai Chin as a part of China. Differences began to crop up leading to a short border war in 1962.

During the last 15 years that Nehru was prime minister, he was mortally scared of a military coup by the army. This was because general Ayub Khan had seized power in Pakistan and General Ne Win had taken over power in Burma. Therefore he kept the army deliberately week with poor leadership. The 1962 war brought out his foolishness. The Chinese were forced to withdraw when Nehru appealed to President John Kennedy for help. Kennedy immediately turned his attention to India after the Cuban missile crisis had been settled and an airlift of arms and weapons began. The Chinese seeing the writing on the wall called for a ceasefire and withdrew.

Chinese atrocities

Chinese atrocities

Plight of Tibetans

The 1962 war saw a fresh influx of Tibetan to India. As on date almost 2,000,000 Tibetan refugees are in India and they don't want to go back. The Dalai Lama has many a time expressed the hope that the Chinese will negotiate with him and he has indicated desire to go back but China has steadfastly refused to let him set foot in Tibet.

In the meantime, the Chinese have totally colonized Tibet. Tibetan culture is gravely damaged and many of the Tibetan nuns have been forcefully married to Chinese. Nehru foolishness in disregarding the advice of Sardar Patel has had serious repercussions for India.

India now has a border almost 3000 Miles with China and the Chinese do not recognize the border as demarcated, claiming that it is something which was imposed by the imperialist powers and the entire border should be renegotiated. India is not ready to negotiate on this but at the same time India has built up its military might and the days of 1962 war are gone. In 1967 an artillery duel took place between the Indian and Chinese army on the border with Sikkim resulting in heavy casualties for the Chinese and proved to the Chinese that another war may not be profitable to them.

China has now become a big economic power and the western countries including the USA do not want to antagonize because of the trade relations which they have. Thus there is nobody to fight for the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama runs a Tibetan government in exile at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh but nobody recognizes this government.

Last Word

China also does not allow an Indian consulate in Lhasa. No Indian is allowed to visit Tibet even as a tourist. The Chinese are mortally scared that the Indians may do something in Tibet. India now has a new leader in Narendra Modi and for the first time, we have a man who has some mettle in him. He is a man who can make hard decisions but he has also conceded that Tibet is now a part of China. The world will forever be sorry that they allowed Tibet to slip into the grip of the red Dragon.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 02, 2020:

Devika, you are far away from Tibet but I have few friends from Tibet and I am concerned. Thank you for commenting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 02, 2020:

I do not speak politics at home it ruins good friendships. As it is ruining the peace at the moment scares me

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 31, 2020:

JC Scull, Thank you for commenting and appreciating

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 30, 2020:

Thank you Bharat. It's a pleasure to have your comment.

Bharat Sharan from Dhanbad on March 30, 2020:

A very true description. Politics is a very dirty game played by politicians while the people suffer.

JC Scull on March 30, 2020:

Very good article.

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