By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)
Pre -1949 official historical records completely discredit the Chinese claim to Tibet from ancient times as per a project report whose findings were presented on 23 Jun 22 at the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The report concludes that Tibet was never a part of China before the People’s Republic of China (PRC) invaded it in 1950. Maps from the Ming and Qing dynasties were presented to prove that Tibet was never part of a Chinese empire. The PRC’s claims to unify China by annexing Tibet are baseless. Its version of ‘Chinese history’ is very different from the actual ‘Chinese history’.
This brings the India -Tibetan-China triangle into focus. If the historical records indicate that Tibet is occupied territory and taking into consideration the Sino-Indian border issues at play, there is reason for India to review its stand for further negotiations. In this connection it is necessary to step back into history and relook at issues involved from different perspectives.
From a Chinese perspective, the outer frontiers of Imperial China were defined by the ‘Great Wall’. It was built to keep outsiders at bay. Historically, The Great Wall defines the outer limits of China’s boundaries. However there is no ‘Single’ Great Wall of China. There were a series of Walls raised by different dynasties depending on the extent of their empire and what they considered China. Taking into consideration all the Walls, the areas outside these are definitely outside China. That includes Tibet, was never part of China till the PRC usurped it based on manufactured ‘history’.
From a Tibetan perspective, Songtsen Gampo (627-649) ruled Tibet as an independent kingdom in the 7th century. He married a Chinese princess to establish relations with China. Buddhism entered Tibet from India around that time. Tibet remained independent till Mongols conquered and ruled China and Tibet in the 13th Century. When Mongols waned, the succeeding Ming dynasty (1368-1644) did not take over Tibet. The next (and last) imperial Qing dynasty (1644-1911), were Manchus. In 1720, political turmoil in Tibet enabled Manchus to intervene and restore order in Tibet. Thereafter, their Resident in Lhasa exercised control, till their own dynasty collapsed. Tibet always retained its own official and legal system in this period. The Qing’s did not attempt to formalise Tibet as a Chinese province. This nebulous relationship was termed as ‘Chinese Suzerainty ’ by the Britishers. In 1904, when Col Younghusband’s expedition entered Lhasa, Chinese influence started waning. In 1912, Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Government declared Tibet as part of China. In February 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama declared the independence of Tibet and expelled all Chinese. This created a de-facto independent Tibet with its own flag, army, government, language, currency and border control. The British presence forced the Chinese out of the area. As the British power waned after India’s independence, the Communist Party, in 1949, instigated the Panchen Lama to appeal to them to liberate Tibet. In 1950, the PLA invaded Tibet through this ruse and the rest is History. The long and short of it is that Tibet was forced to amalgamate into China. It was never an integral or sovereign part of China as often claimed by the PRC. The relationship between Tibet and China was of only suzerainty periodically. All this is now buttressed by the Report to the US Congressional committee.
Another important legal angle is that after invading Tibet in 1950, China forced Tibet to sign a 17 The Point Agreement illegally on 23 May, 1951. The Agreement gave complete control of Tibet to the PRC. It was signed on behalf of Tibet by a person devoid of authority. However it is reported that the very opening paragraph of the main statement admits Tibet’s status as a separate entity where words to the effect that “China did not enjoy any effective control for over the last hundred years and more” have been mentioned in that Agreement.If this is correct, it is an unexploited legal loophole. It proves by self-admission that Tibet was not part of China. It needs greater investigation.
From an Indian perspective, Tibet was not recognized as part of China till the 2003 agreement was reached. The 2003 agreement reads “The Indian side agrees to designate Changgu of Sikkim state as the venue for border trade market; the Chinese side agrees to designate Renqinggang of the Tibet Autonomous Region as the venue for border trade market”. It is only this paraphrasing which establishes recognition of Tibet as part of China and Sikkim as part of India. Nathu La pass is mentioned as an entry and exit point and hence is treated as the border by common understanding. In 2003, it was never contended by China that the Tibet Autonomous Region extended South of the Mac Mahon Line. The common understanding was that Tibet was generally North of the Mac Mahon Line even if the line was itself in dispute at some places. Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet started after 2003. In claiming so, the Chinese have actually violated their commitments of 2003. Further, China has violated all Sino-Indian agreements in their 2020 aggression in Eastern Ladakh. In view of just these facts, it is perfectly legal that India does not recognise Tibet as part of China.
When the Chinese, Tibetan and Indian historical perspectives are viewed along with the latest Report, it emerges that Tibet is legally not part of China. Further, the Tibet, India recognised in 2003 is also now in dispute due to additional claims into Arunachal Pradesh and their violation of all agreements during their 2020 aggression. Is there a case for India to change its position and negotiating stance with the Chinese?
(The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ http://www.gunnersshot.com. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)