BY DR.ANIL KUMAR LAL
Historically Tibet has always been an Independent state & a buffer between India & China.
Tibet’s Strategic Status
- Tibet has been historically an Independent State. A non-partisan and an objective study by a High Powered International Committee as ordered by the United Nations can prove it. The time has come, to stop the Chinese expansionist agenda of claiming all areas around its periphery on some pretext or the other. They did not even spare the miniscule peace loving people of Nepal, while unilaterally occupying about 11 villages in Nepal. There is no end to communist ambitions of enslaving the world. Xi Jinping has already declared China as the only world power and that it will be the strongest military power like America in 2027.
- Tibet is the strategic powerhouse of Asia both from a natural resource centric view and that it is a geostrategic bulwark because of its geography. The access to this part of the world is limited; however, there is some information, which trickles out and there have been some Indian writers like Partha Gangopadhyay and some western tourists, who have been writing on the subject. Incidentally, the author himself has been the Commanding General in this frontier region and had access to partial information from local population along both sides of the LAC from time to time.
- Beyond a second thought, Tibet’s strategic status is of great importance to the world geopolitics. As regards security of India is concerned the vast Tibetan lands act as a buffer from Chinese influence. It becomes an important national security barrier; an important ecological security barrier; an important reservoir for strategic resources; an important hub for bio-diversity and a water resource for South Asia. Tibet could become the nodal space for President Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt &Road initiative’ (BRI). It could be the center of a road network for China’s outward trade. Towards this area analyses, let us study the aspects of Tibetan History, which reflects of being a subject of the Great Game theory as rival powers pitched for enhancing spheres of Influence in this vast and huge land tract.
Historical Narrative: Tibet
- The narrative of Tibet’s history speaks and proves very distinctively that Tibet has always been an independent state, most of the 2000 years back. In 1950, China invaded it after termination of its own civil war. Let us scan the history with dates and kingdoms, which came and went. This will remove ambiguity on its legal status. Tibet as a country would have been the tenth largest country, almost as large as Australia or even India. See figure below.
- The Mauryan Empire in the 3 rd century B.C.E. had fought many bloody battles. King Ashoka, seeing many deaths on humanity decided to convert to Buddhism, which thereafter, spread not only through India, but also internationally. Ceylon, Burma, Nepal, Central Asia, China, and Japan are just some of the regions where the Middle Path was widely accepted.
- The influence of Buddhism magnified with time and by the 9 th century AD had even been adopted by Tibet as one of the core values of the their culture. Since then Tibet by itself posed no threat to China by the 10 th century AD.The last great king of Tibet’s imperial age concluded a peace treaty with China in the 9 th century AD. He ensured penetration of Buddhism into his domain during his reign. Thus began the transformation of a martial race towards a culture of tolerance and meditations. Tibet thus became vulnerable to outside invasions. Due to this new culture of tolerance and non-violence, in the post Tri Relpachen period, the Tibetan empire collapsed and Tibet disintegrated into smaller and constantly feuding kingdoms. Similar feuds of smaller states including the war of the Ten Kingdoms were also happening in China. Tibet never even figured in Chinese thinking. Instead, the Mongols attacked Tibet in 1240 and annexed Tibet. However, thereafter Tibet remained entirely independent for 400 years from the mid fourteenth century onwards. Even the Ming dynasty of China (towards the East) did not attempt to assert them on Tibet. During this later period, the legacy of the Dalai Lamas (with the support from the Qing dynasty) was established by the Manchus in China established the legacy of the Dalai Lama(with support from the Qing dynasty)The Qing rule over Tibet was established after a Qing expedition force defeated the Dzungars who occupied Tibet in 1720.They continued till the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912. This was, in fact the only period when the Tibetans were under suzerainty by the Qing dynasty. The Qing emperors appointed imperial residents to Tibet, who commanded over 2,000 troops stationed in Lhasa and reported to a Qing government agency that oversaw the region during this period. As can be observed that the Qing dynasty only exercised partial suzerainty and that Tibet’s sovereignty remained untouched.
- Meanwhile, with the steady takeover of the Indian subcontinent by British colonialism, who started looking towards Tibet as an outer perimeter for defense? This made China realize the geopolitical importance of Tibet. Geopolitics and the geostrategic factors threw up two empires competing for spheres of influence. The Great Game, or the regimes of proxy wars, was a strategic rivalry between the British and Russian conflicting spheres of influence for the mastery of Central Asia. By the 1890s, Central Asian states were one after the other made into Russian vassals. Central Tibetan Administration emphatically said on 13 September 2012: “With Central Asia in the Tsar’s grip, the Great Game now shifted eastward to China, Mongolia, and Tibet. In 1904, the British invaded Lhasa, a pre-emptive strike against Russian intrigues and secret meetings between the 13th Dalai Lama’s envoy and Tsar Nicholas II.” The 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia and China.
- As per article by Thubten Samph and many historical facts on record, following is quoted: “The invading British army found no evidence of any Russian influence in Tibet. However, the greatest impact of the British invasion of Tibet was felt in Manchu China. Throughout its history, China faced threats from the marauding nomads of the vast, open grasslands of Mongolia and Manchuria who usurped the Chinese imperial throne and established their own dynasties. In the 19th century, China faced a new threat from beyond the oceans in the form of Western colonial powers, which, joined by fast-rising Japan, exacted humiliating trade and territorial concessions from a crippled Manchu empire.” He further narrates that in view of the constant threats to China from the grasslands of Mongolia and now this new threat from beyond the oceans, China continued to look at Tibet as an effective buffer and its “secure backyard.” In addition, that the British breach of the buffer awakened the Chinese of the Great Game theory and the strategic depth which Tibet can provide to thwart any attacker from the West. Manchu China was convinced that the British might mount an invasion of China through Tibet. The only way to prevent this from happening was to take control of Tibet. The British and Russian Empires were competing for supremacy in Central Asia in early 19 th century. Unable to establish diplomatic liaison with the Tibetan government, and concerned about their linkages with Russia, in 1903-04, a British expedition led by Colonel Francis Young husband was sent to Lhasa to enforce a trading agreement and to prevent Tibetans from establishing liaison with the Russians. In response, the Qing foreign ministry asserted China’s sovereignty over Tibet, the first clear enunciation of such a claim, more out of fear with no historical basis for such a demand. Before the British’s could reach Lhasa, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Outer Mongolia, and then went to Beijing in 1908. The Tibetan strike at Batang monastery was triggered by the British invasion in 1905, when anti-foreign Tibetan lamas massacred French missionaries, Manchu and Han Qing officials, and Christian converts before the Qing crushed the revolt.
- The Treaty of Lhasa was signed in1904 between the British and Tibetans. This was soon followed by the treaty of 1906 between the British and Beijing, who agreed to pay London 2.5 million rupees, which Lhasa was forced to agree upon in the Anglo-Tibetan treaty of 1904.So as, can be seen, Beijing had more of a role of mediation between Lhasa and Britain. In addition, Britain and Russia agreed in 1907 “In conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet both nations will engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government.”
Dr. Maj Gen (Retd) Anil Kumar Lal is a defence analyst and has been writing extensively on national security meausures.