Foreign relations of Tibet proceed in the first
instance from the agreements which China, Russia, India and the
Kingdom entered into regarding Tibet's status.
States and the United
Nations were to play a role as they reacted to the assertion of
sovereignty by the People's Republic of China beginning in 1950. Nepal and the
other small independent or semi-independent countries in the
Indian-Tibetan border region play a minor role as does Mongolia.
known of Tibet before the 7th century when
Buddhism was introduced by missionaries from India.
Tibet was a strong empire between the 8th and 10th centuries.
Relations with the Tang dynasty of China
a stone pillar, the Lhasa Zhol
rdo-rings, in the ancient village
of Zhol in front of the Potala in Lhasa,
dating to c.
764 CE during the reign of Trisong Detsen
. It also contains an
account of the brief capture of Chang'an, the Chinese capital, in 763 CE during the reign of
Emperor Daizong of
As of 1993 the pillar was surrounded by buildings
and wire so it could not be approached closely.
monument dating to 823 and setting out the terms of peace and
borders between Tibet and China arrived at in 821 can still be seen
in front of the Jokhang temple in
Barkhor Square in Lhasa.
monument, a treaty of friendship, is written in both Tibetan and
Chinese. The inscribed pillar was erected by the Chinese in 1793
during a smallpox
epidemic. It records the
Sino-Tibetan treaty of
concluded by King Ralpacan
includes the following inscription: "Tibet and China shall abide by
the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east
is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without
question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side
shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory. If any
person incurs suspicion he shall be arrested; his business shall be
inquired into and he shall be escorted back," as well as advice on
hygiene measures to prevent smallpox.
The relations between the two countries appears to have been
complex. On the one hand, the monument describes connections
between China and Tibet as similar to those between uncle and
nephew. The Tang dynasty of China and the Yarlung dynasty of Tibet
were indeed related by marriage, yet the terms uncle and nephew are
not used in relation to other groups with whom the Chinese had
connections by marriage. On the other hand, the monument seems to
describe the two countries as equals. The text has been published
After the Mongol Prince Köden took control of the Kokonor region in
1239, in order to investigate the possibility of attacking Song
China from the West, he sent his general Doorda Darqan on a
reconnaissance mission into Tibet in 1240. During this expedition
monasteries of Rwa-sgreng and
Rgyal-lha-khang were burned, and 500 people killed. The death of
the Mongol Khan in 1241
brought Mongol military activity around the world ground,
temporarily, to a halt. Mongol interests in Tibet resumed in 1244
when Prince Köden sent an invitation to Sa-skya Paṇḍita (1182-1251)
to come to his capital and formally surrender Tibet to the Mongols.
Sa-skya Paṇḍita arrived in Kokonor with his two nephews 'Phags-pa
(1235-80) and Phyag-na Rdo-rje (1239-67) in 1246.
After an internecine feud among the Mongol princes Quibilai
was appointed byMöngke Khan
to take charge over the Chinese
campaigns in 1253. Since Sa-skya Paṇḍita had already died Qubilai
took 'Phags-pa into his camp as a symbol of Tibet's surrender.
Qubilai was elected Qaɣan in 1260 following the death of his
brother Möngke, although his ascendance was not uncontested. At
that point he named 'Phags-pa as 'state preceptor'
. In 1265 'Phags-pa returned to Tibet and for the
first time made an attempt to impose Sa-skya hegemony with the
appointment of Shakya Bzang-po (a long time servant and ally of the
Sa-skyas) as the Dpon-chen 'great administrator' over Tibet in
1267. A census was conducted in 1268 and Tibet was divided into 13
In 1269 'Phags-pa returned to Kublai's side at his new capital
Qanbaliq (modern day Beijing). He presented the Qaɣan with a new
script designed to represent all of the languages of the empire.
The next year he was named Di-shi
and his position as titular ruler of Tibet (now in the form of its
13 myriarchies) was reconfirmed. The Sa-skya hegemony over Tibet
continued into the middle of the 14th century, although it was
challenged by a revolt of the 'Bri-khung sect with the assistance
of the Ilkhanate
in 1285. The revolt was suppressed in
1290 when the Sa-skyas and eastern Mongols burned 'Bri-khung and
killed 10,000 people (cf. Wylie 1977).
Tibet and the Ming Dynasty
historians still debate on the exact relationship the Chinese
Dynasty (1368–1644) had with Tibet.
assert that the Ming Dynasty had full sovereignty
over Tibet, while scholars outside
China assert that Tibet was simply an independent tributary and
that the Ming merely had nominal suzerainty
over Tibet by granting some lamas
various honorific titles.
Qing dynasty control
early 18th century the Qing government
of China established
the right to have resident commissioners, called Ambans, in Lhasa.
When the Tibetans rebelled
against the Chinese in 1750 and killed the Ambans, a Chinese army
entered the country to restore Chinese authority. In the Chinese
view, the Tibetans once again acknowledged themselves as subjects
of the Empire of China and new Ambans were installed. However,
China did not make any attempt to impose direct rule on Tibet and
the Tibetan government around the Dalai Lama continued to manage
its day to day affairs, thus in their own view remaining
The 1904 British expedition of Tibet
(main article: British
expedition to Tibet
In 1904 A British diplomatic mission, accompanied by a large
military escort, forced its way through to Lhasa. 
The head of the diplomatic mission was Colonel
Francis Younghusband. The principal motivation for the British
mission was a fear, which proved to be unfounded, that Russia was
extending its footprint into Tibet and possibly even giving
military aid to the Tibetan government. When the mission reached
Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had already fled to Urga in Mongolia, but a
treaty was signed by lay and ecclesasiastical officials of the
Tibetan government, and by representatives of the three monasteries
of Sera, Drepung, and Ganden. (Bell, 1924 p. 284; Allen, 2004, p.
282). The treaty made provisions for the frontier between Sikkim
and Tibet to be respected, for freer trade between British and
Tibetan subjects, and for an indemnity to be paid from the Tibetan
Government to the British Government for its expenses in
dispatching armed troops to Lhasa. It also made provision for a
British trade agent to reside at the trade mart at Gyantse. The
provisions of this 1904 treaty were confirmed in a 1906 treaty
signed between Britain and China, in which the British also agreed
"not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the
administration of Tibet." (Bell, 1924, p. 288). The position of
British Trade Agent at Gyantse was occupied from 1904 up until
1944. It was not until 1937, with the creation of the position of
"Head of British Mission Lhasa", that a British officer had a
permanent posting in Lhasa itself. (McKay, 1997, p. 230-1).
- Allen, Charles (2004). Duel in the Snows: The True Story of
the Younghusband Mission to Lhasa. London: John Murray, 2004.
- Bell, Charles (1924). Tibet: Past & Present.
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Carrington, Michael. 'Officers Gentlemen and Thieves: The
Looting of Monasteries during the 1903/4 Younghusband Mission to
Tibet' Modern Asian Studies, 37, 1, (2003) pp. 81–109. (Cambridge
- McKay, Alex. Tibet and the British Raj: The Frontier Cadre
1904-1947. London: Curzon, 1997. ISBN 0-7007-0627-5
Early 20th century events
In 1907, a treaty between Britain and Russia recognized Chinese
suzerainty over Tibet and agreed not to negotiate with Tibet except
through the intermediary of the Chinese government. 
The Chinese established direct rule for
the first time in 1910. But when the 1911 Xinhai Revolution ended the Qing Dynasty the Chinese troops withdrew, and the Dalai Lama was
able to re-establish his power. In 1913, Tibet and
Mongolia signed a treaty
proclaiming their independence from China, and their mutual
The subsequent outbreak of world wars and
civil war in China
caused both the
powers and China to lose interest in Tibet, and the 13th Dalai Lama
ruled undisturbed. In 1914 a treaty was negotiated in India, the
of China, Tibet and Britain participated. Again, Chinese suzerainty
over Tibet was recognized and a
boundary negotiated between British India and Tibet which was very
generous to Britain. The treaty was never signed by the Chinese and
thus never came into force. The Chinese raised a number of
objections, especially their refusal to recognize any treaty
between Tibet and Britain.
Nazi German SS expedition to Tibet
1939 German Expedition
to Tibet was an August 1939 SS expedition
to Tibetan territory under the sponsorship of
the Third Reich.
September 29, this group had been observed by the British authorities in India.
SS unit was guided by Ernst
, an Ahnenerbe
and SS commander. Coincidentally, the Japanese ordered Kwantung Army
agents to arrive in Tibet and Xinjiang to research the country and make contact
with the inhabitants.
China's assertion of sovereignty
the Nationalist government of the Republic of China nor the People's Republic of China have ever
renounced China's claim to sovereignty over Tibet.
ascribes Tibetan efforts to establish independence as due to the
machinations of "British imperialism" 
. According to the Chinese, the Tibetan
cabinet, the Kashag
, set up a "bureau of
foreign affairs" in July, 1942 and demanded that the Chinese
mission in Lhasa, the Office of the Commission for Mongolian and
Tibetan Affairs, deal only with it. The Chinese successfully
In 1950 the People's Liberation
entered Tibet, meeting little resistance from the small
and ill-equipped Tibetan army. In 1951 the 17
, signed under threat of a wholesale Chinese
invasion by representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama
, provided for rule by a joint
Chinese-Tibetan authority. This agreement was successfully put into
effect in Tibet but in June 1956, rebellion broke out in the
Tibetan populated borderlands of Amdo
when the government tried to impose the
socialist transformation policies in these regions that they had in
other provinces of China. Since Amdo and Kham had not been under
the control of Lhasa in 1950 but under the control of Chinese
warlords, they were not considered by the Chinese to be part of
Tibet and thus not subject to the "go slow" agreement. This unrest
provided the opportunity for the CIA
an armed Tibetan rebellion which eventually spread to Lhasa. The
rebellion was crushed by 1959 and the Dalai Lama fled in disguise
to India. Isolated actions continued until 1969. The Panchen Lama
was set up as a figurehead in Lhasa while the Dalai Lama eventually
created a Government of
Tibet in Exile
Wartime relations with the United States
The first United States mission to Tibet, in 1942, a reconnaissance
mission sent by the OSS
to scout out a possible route to southern China during World War II
was headed by Captain Ilya Tolstoy
grandson of the novelist. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Brooke Dolan II
who had previously engaged
in extensive naturalistic explorations in Tibet. In Lhasa they were
granted an audience with the Dalai Lama, then only 7 years old. A
letter from Franklin
was delivered which was carefully phrased as being
addressed to the Dalai Lama as a religious leader but not as the
ruler of Tibet. Gifts were given to the Dalai Lama and gifts were
received from the Tibetan cabinet, the Kashag
. Tolstoy remained for three months but did not
attempt to raise the question of transshipment
of supplies to China as he could
see the unfavorable attitude of the Tibetans. In early 1943 Tolstoy
continued into China arriving at Lanzhou in June, 1943.
The Tibetans were a neutral
nation during the war, while China was not. This tends to show that
Tibet was autonomous at that time.
The notion of building a road or attempting to supply China through
Tibet was forsaken but as a result of the relations which were
established a wool import quota was granted to Padatsang
, a Tibetan merchant from Kham who had
aided the mission, and promised radio equipment was delivered to
Lhasa, 3 transmitters and 6 receivers. While in Tibet Tolstoy and
the British resident had raised the possibility that Tibet might
participate in post-war conferences. This never came to fruition as
both Britain and the United States, in consideration of their
relations with China, continued to take the position that Tibet was
not a sovereign country.
The subject of Tibet arose briefly in international affairs in
1942-43 as a result efforts by the U.S. to fly aid to China over
the Himalayas following the closure of the Burma Road
. An America plane crashed in Tibet and
its five crew members were escorted back to India. The U.S. sent a
mission to Lhasa led by Captain Ilia Tolstoy to study the
possibility of an air supply route crossing Tibetan territory.
Although the project was not pushed any further, it created a need
to clarify Tibet's status in international law. In 1942, US State
Department formally notified the Chinese government based in
wartime capital Chungking (Chongqing) that it had at no time raised
any doubt about the Chinese sovereignty claim over Tibet. In 1995,
US State Department reiterated its position during the hearing
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
- "The United States considers the Tibet Autonomous Region or
TAR (hereinafter referred to as "Tibet") as part of the People's
Republic of China. This longstanding policy is consistent
with the view of the entire international community, including all
China's neighbors: no country recognizes Tibet as a sovereign
state. Moreover, U.S. acceptance of China's claim of
sovereignty over Tibet predates the establishment of the People's
Republic of China. In 1942, we told the Nationalist
Chinese government then headquartered in Chongqing (Chungking) that
we had "at no time raised (a) question" over Chinese claims to
British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden accordingly wrote a note
presented to the Chinese government which describes Tibet as, "an
autonomous State under the suzerainty of China" that "enjoyed de
facto independence." Meanwhile, the British embassy in Washington
told the U.S. State Department that, "Tibet is a separate country
in full enjoyment of local autonomy, entitled to exchange
diplomatic representatives with other powers." Although London
repeatedly asked the United States for assistance, the U.S. State
Department refuted London's claim:
- "For its part, the Government of the United States has
borne in mind the fact that the Chinese Government has long claimed
suzerainty over Tibet and that the Chinese constitution lists Tibet
among areas constituting the territory of the Republic of
China. This Government has at no time raised a question
regarding either of these claims."
The trade delegation of 1947
In 1947 the Tibetan foreign office began planning a trade
delegation to visit India, China, the United States and Britain.
Initial overtures were made to the US embassy in India requesting
meetings with President Truman
other US officials to discuss trade. This request was
forwarded to Washington, but the State
Department proved willing only to meet with the Tibetans on an
The delegation consisted of 4 persons,
, Tibet's chief
financial officer, Padatsang, and two others including a
Armed with the first Tibetan passports, the delegation went first
to New Delhi, meeting with Prime
. Most foreign trade from Tibet passed through India, and
it was the practice of the Indian government to convert any foreign
currencies received into rupees before payment to Tibet. The
Tibetans were unable to negotiate any change in this practice,
which would have put hard currency
into their hands. One of the goals of the trade delegation was to
obtain gold or other solid backing for Tibetan currency.
It was the Chinese position that a Chinese passport was required
for entry into China. These were issued, and the delegation entered
China at Hong Kong, using them and spent 3 months in China. For the
next leg of the journey to the United States and Britain, the
Chinese took the position that they would only issue exit visas on
the Chinese passports. However the Tibets managed to get a British
consular officer in Nanking to issue a British visa on their
Tibetan passports, and, again, a US officer in Hong Kong, thus
defeating the efforts of the US State Department and the British
Foreign Office to deny use of the Tibetan passports, a small
victory for the supposedly unsophisticated Tibetans.
The delegation arrived in San Francisco in July, 1948 where they
were met by the British Consul. They traveled by train to
Washington where, despite strong objections by the Chinese and
reassurance that the United States recognized China's de jure
sovereignty over Tibet, the Tibetans
were received by the Secretary of State, George Marshall
. There was some language in
the State Department's negotiations with the Chinese which noted
that they exerted no de facto control over Tibet and noted the
traditional American principle of favoring self-determination, but
no more definite statement was made regarding Tibetan
They requested aid from the United States in convincing India to
free up their hard currency earning and also for permission to
purchase gold from the United States for a currency reserve. They
received no help on their problem with India but were given
permission to purchase up to 50,000 ounces of gold.
Not meeting with President Truman, they proceeded to New York where
they were greeted by their old friend, Ilya Tolstoy, who introduced
them around. They met with Lowell
, who was interested in visiting Tibet, and Dwight Eisenhower
, then president of
Columbia University, and other eastern establishment personalities
as well as Prince
Peter of Greece and Denmark
who had an interest in Tibet.
In November the delegation set sail for Britain where they spent 3
weeks but were received coolly. Returning through India they were
able to free up some foreign exchange for the purchase of gold and,
adding money of their own, effected a purchase of $425,800 in gold
which was transported to Tibet by pack animals.
Being received more warmly in the United States than in Britain,
with whom they had a long established relationship, set the stage
for later expansion of the relationship with the United States as
they attempted to deal with later Chinese efforts to reassert
- A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. Hugh E.
Richardson. Royal Asiatic Society (1985), pp. 1-25. ISBN
- Dowman, Keith (1998). The Power-Places of Central Tibet:
The Pilgrim's Guide, pp. 40-41. Routledge & Kegan Paul,
London and New York. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0.
- Richardson, Hugh, "The Sino-Tibetan Treaty Inscription of A.D.
821/823 at Lhasa," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
1978, no.2, pp.137-162.
- A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. H. E.
Richardson. 1985. Royal Asiatic Society, pp. 106-143.
- Li, Fang Kuei, and W. South Coblin, A Study of the Old
Tibetan Inscriptions, Institute of History and Philology,
Academia Sinica, Special Publications No. 91. Taipei, 1987,
- U.S. Department of State 95/09/07 Testimony: Kent Wiedemann on
policy toward Tibet Bureau for East Asia and Pacific Affairs,
testimony by Kent M. Wiedemann, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
For East Asian And Pacific Affairs Before Subcomittee On East Asian
and Pacific Affairs Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Goldstein, 1989, p. 401. See also Memorandum from Sir
Anthony Eden to the Chinese foreign minister, T. V. Soong,
- Walt van Praag, ibid, p. 79.
- Goldstein, 1989, p386, aide-mémoire sent by the US
Department of States to the British Embassy in Washington,
D.C., dated 15 May 1943, FO371/35756
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352 pages, ISBN 1-56324-713-5
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of the 1938 Nazi expedition into Tibet. Transworld Publishers.
London. ISBN 0-593-04952-7
- Knaus, John Kenneth. Orphans of the Cold War: America and
the Tibetan Struggle for Survival, Perseus, 1999, hardcover,
398 pages, ISBN 1-891620-18-5; trade paperback, Perseus, 2000, ISBN
- Kolmaš, Josef. 1967. Tibet and Imperial China: A survey of
Sino-Tibetan relations up to the end of the Manchu Dynasty in
1912. Occasional Paper 7. The Australian National University -
Centre of Oriental Studies, Canberra.
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in Tibet, University Press of Kansas, March, 2002, hardcover,
301 pages, ISBN 0-7006-1159-2
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